RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — At a Tuesday meeting, the State Water Control Board approved a permit that will allow construction to proceed on the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile natural gas project across the Appalachians.

In a 3-2 vote, the board agreed to issue the permit, which outlines requirements the company will have to abide by to protect streams during construction and address permanent impacts on delicate wetland ecosystems.

The vote is a win for the company after a setback earlier this month. The Virginia Air Pollution Control Board, a separate board under the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), denied approval for a compressor station associated with the pipeline.

At the time, environmental justice organization Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights wrote, “Without this key permit, the Mountain Valley Pipeline and its Southgate extension are unlikely to ever be built.”

This map shows the route of the proposed pipeline.

The proposed pipeline runs through large portions of West Virginia and Virginia’s Appalachian counties, with 107 miles of the project located in the commonwealth.

DEQ staff recommended approval of the permit to the Water Control Board, saying they had performed extensive evaluations of the projects potential impact on streams and wetlands in the pipeline’s path.

The pipeline was previously denied a similar permit by the North Carolina DEQ in 2020.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s office also brought a complaint against the company in 2018, alleging over 300 violations of state environmental regulations, for which the company agreed to pay a $2,150,000 penalty.

Lee Francis, Deputy Director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, said that record should have been disqualifying.

“Today’s vote ignores science, overlooks one of the poorest environmental track records in state history, puts an out-of-state corporation’s interests ahead of what’s right for clean water and our environment, and comes even as another state citizen board acted to do the right thing for Virginians by rejecting MVP’s license to pollute earlier this month,” Francis wrote in a statement following the board’s decision.

But during Tuesday’s board meeting, a DEQ staffer said the board could not consider past violations when weighing approval of the permit.

One board member raised concerns about the scope of the permit, which regulates impacts on surface water, but does not address potential chemical contamination of groundwater.

“Are you saying groundwater is not state water?” the board member asked.

“We only regulate groundwater in that part of the state that is designated by statute as a groundwater management area,” a DEQ staff member replied.

This map shows the groundwater management areas in Virginia, located mostly in the Hampton Roads region. (Map courtesy of the Library of Congress)

In a statement following the ruling, Food & Water Watch, an environmental advocacy group, said the fate of the pipeline was now in the hands of federal agencies.

“Mountain Valley Pipeline offers a critical opportunity for President Biden’s administration,” said Food & Water Watch Southern Region Director Jorge Aguilar. “Where Virginia state agencies and our Governor have abdicated responsibility to protect Virginians from the destruction and pollution of this massive fracked gas project, the federal government must now act.”

Final approval of the pipeline now rests in the hands of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees all interstate natural gas pipelines.