The debt ceiling deal passed the Senate on Wednesday and proceeded to be passed by the House with a 314-117 majority vote. As part of the Debt Ceiling Reform Act, a provision regarding the issuing of permits for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) has caused outrage amongst environmental activists. This methane gas pipeline spans 303 miles from West Virginia to Virginia and is expected to produce up to two million dekatherms as its transmission capacity.
Dekatherms are the heating value of natural gas. For comparison, the average household consumption rate is between 70 to 90 therms per month. A dekatherm is about 10 therms.
Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia helped to secure this provision in the debt deal. In turn, the bill prevents the pipeline from further litigation as no court can take any legal action against the pipeline that would prevent it from operating or prevent construction to its full capacity.
The debt ceiling legislation itself was passed with a greater Democrat support role in its passage as 165 Democrats voted for it. Republicans also unanimously passed it with 149 votes in support. Even with this bipartisan support, White House officials state that this law overshadows any environmental issue that stems from the MVP.
The pipeline itself has faced much backlash since it crosses multiple waterways and federal natural forest lands. Recently, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request from the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) in regard to construction disrupting the Virginia State Water Control Board. The passing of this bill means the multiple environmental concerns based on permit issues are disregarded, and construction will continue without obstruction.
In response, multiple environmental groups are planning sit-in protests in front of the White House. For example, POWHR (Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights) has been organizing a protest for June 8 to express concerns about the continuous damage to the climate and the increased dangers of this pipeline. Two other organizations, Halt the Harm and West Virginia Rivers, held webinars to express their viewpoints, as well.
The Potential Economic Impact
The initial estimated rate of the pipeline’s natural gas cost was estimated at $0.97 per dekatherm, which accounted for transportation of the natural gas and other fluctuating charges. The projected cost to build the pipeline was $3.25 billion. However, due to delays and numerous lawsuits, the pipeline is more closely estimated at $6 billion—nearly double the expected cost. Originally, the pipeline was posed as a good source of revenue as the trading of natural gas was estimated at $1.50 per dekatherm. However, prices have fallen as a result of an increased supply of natural gas and abnormally warm temperatures during the winter. Now the estimated trade amount is $1 per dekatherm.
The production of the pipeline also faces multiple legal battles as part of the environmental risk that comes with this kind of project. West Virginia and Virginia residences, waterbodies, trails, farmland, and the Jefferson National Forest are at risk of destruction or damage with the proposed MVP route. MVP also has proposed a pipeline expansion of 70 miles to supply North Carolina with Appalachian natural gas. This most likely means that costs for production are set to increase yet again.
The pipeline has received much backlash for its environmental costs and economic effects as costs keep rising, but the pipeline does economically benefit Virginia and West Virginia. It is projected to increase direct spending in Virginia by an estimated $520 million and by $1.58 billion for West Virginia. The construction of the pipeline will also sustain up to 3,000 jobs in both states. The tax benefits of MVP are also immense with $49 million in tax revenues for Virginia and $82 million for West Virginia. However, even with the FERC’s oversight, the pipeline continues to be entangled in more legal and economic trouble as it overlooks permits and becomes increasingly more expensive.
The environmental ramifications of this debt deal include soil erosion, destruction of ecosystems, explosion risks, and construction land impediments. The continued construction of the MVP allows for bypassing environmental laws just to increase carbon gas emissions instead of countering climate change.