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Mountain Valley Pipeline seeks new panel for challenges

June 6, 2022 GMT

ROANOKE, Va. (AP) — A company building a natural gas pipeline in Virginia and West Virginia is seeking a new panel of judges to hear the next round in its legal battle with environmentalists.

Mountain Valley Pipeline filed a motion last month requesting the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to assign a new panel at random, The Roanoke Times reported.

The 303-mile (487-kilometer) pipeline, which is mostly finished, would transport natural gas drilled from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations through West Virginia and Virginia. Legal battles have delayed completion by nearly four years and doubled the pipeline’s cost, now estimated at $6.6 billion.

The company argues that the three-judge panel that has presided over 12 challenges of government approvals for it and the now-defunct Atlantic Coast Pipeline has vacated or stayed all but two of the permits. It argues that effectively killed the Atlantic Coast project and threatening to do the same for Mountain Valley.

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“The perception created by this Court’s deliberate formation of a special ‘pipeline panel’ – actually a ‘Mountain Valley panel’ – threatens public confidence in the Court’s legitimacy,” the motion states.

Three-member panels are randomly assigned for incoming cases, but rules sometimes allow for the same judges to remain with a case when it comes up again. However, the company asserts that the Fourth Circuit didn’t follow its internal operating procedures.

The rule states, in part: “Every effort is made to assign cases for oral argument to judges who have had previous involvement with the case” to preside over a motion made before oral arguments or a prior appeal in the matter. Mountain Valley contends that the current cases involve neither a pre-argument motion nor a prior appeal and asks that the court to “correct this departure from its own procedures.”

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups, which are contesting the latest permits for water crossings, urged the court not to grant the request. Mountain Valley’s calculations that it won only two of the 12 cases decided by the panel omits most of some half-dozen cases that involved eminent domain, distorting the panel’s record, a motion from the Sierra Club states.