The Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the way for construction of the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline to proceed, granting an emergency request from backers of the project that has the support of Congress and the Biden administration.
The justices agreed to lift lower court orders that froze construction of the project while legal challenges play out.
The Supreme Court’s order is a victory for West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat who has championed the project and pushed for it during debt ceiling negotiations in June.
In the brief order, the court offered no extensive reasoning and no dissents were noted.
The order came as the White House announced new actions to combat climate-fueled extreme heat, which has been baking cities in the Southwest for weeks before moving Northeast on Thursday.
Despite climate activists urging the Biden administration to stop approving fossil fuel projects like the Mountain Valley Pipeline, White House officials have been supportive of the pipeline since it was first introduced in Congress last year. More recently, administration officials including White House senior adviser John Podesta and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm voiced support this year for the pipeline’s approval.
The White House did not immediately return CNN’s request for comment on the Supreme Court allowing the pipeline to proceed.
Priority of Manchin’s
The 300-mile-long pipeline would transport gas from West Virginia’s Marcellus and Utica shale areas to Virginia. The pipeline would cross waterways and federal national forest lands, which is why it went through a complex environmental permitting process and led to multiple lawsuits.
The project has been severely delayed, in part, because several of the court challenges were upheld by the Virginia-based 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which has repeatedly tossed the project’s permits, citing environmental violations.
In June, however, members of Congress came together under debt ceiling negotiations to pass the Fiscal Responsibility Act, known as Section 324, mandating the completion of the pipeline and stripping jurisdiction of courts to hear challenges regarding federal approvals of the project. President Joe Biden signed it into law on June 3.
When it was revealed that Manchin’s pipeline provisions would be added to the debt limit bill, a White House official previously told CNN it would make good on a compromise that the White House and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer struck with Manchin last year to secure his vote for the Inflation Reduction Act.
“The Supreme Court has spoken and this decision to let construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline move forward again is the correct one,” Manchin’s office said in a statement. “I am relieved that the highest court in the land has upheld the law Congress passed and the President signed.”
Environmental groups such as the Wilderness Society, argued that Congress had exceeded its authority in passing the law. On July 10, the appeals court entered an order freezing construction and agreed to expedite the case.
Backers of the pipeline say that if they cannot resume operations by July 26, they will be unable to put the pipeline into service by the end of the year.
A hearing in the case is currently scheduled for Thursday at the Richmond based appeals court. Backers of the pipeline will ask the court to dismiss appeals brought by the groups, and the groups are expected to argue that Section 324 is unconstitutional.
Opponents point to environmental concerns
In court papers, lawyers for one of the environmental groups told the Supreme Court it should allow the stay to remain in place, emphasizing that the lower court has put the case on an expedited timeline.
They argued that Section 324 was “tailored to mandate victory” for the Mountain Valley pipeline and that Congress “cannot pick winners and losers in pending litigation by compelling finds or results.”
They also stressed the environmental concern for the pipeline which, they argue, forced “hundreds” of private landowners to go to court for eminent domain proceedings. They said the pipeline crosses terrain that is both “demanding and fragile” and at times climbs up more than 200-miles-steep “landslide prone” mountains.
Supporters of the project countered in court papers that the appeals court did not have jurisdiction to consider the case because under Section 324 of the law all such challenges have been rendered moot. They also argued the law is constitutional.
“Time is of the essence,” Don Verrilli, a lawyer for the backers of the project, argued in court papers. He told the court if the project remains on hold, it will “prevent the Pipeline from being placed in service by the end of the year” adding to the billions of dollars of losses already incurred “as a result of prior litigation asking to prevent the Pipeline from being built” and will “undermine the public interest benefits Congress identified in the Act.”
The emergency application received the support of a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Manchin, who filed his own friend of the court brief in support of the project.
Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar told the justices in court papers that Congress was “well within” its constitutional authority to pass the law and argued that the court of appeals lacked authority to stay the agencies action in a move which has “profoundly impaired” operation of the pipeline.
Environmental groups challenging the controversial pipeline reacted angrily to the Supreme Court’s decision to allow construction to continue. Lawyers were midway through a hearing before the federal appeals court on the case when they learned of the order, which was briefly discussed.
“The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a climate disaster that defies logic and will only exacerbate the crisis for communities along the pipeline,” said Ben Jealous, executive director of Sierra Club. “These communities – like all of us – deserve to have safe drinking water, breathe clean air, and be safe from potential methane leaks and disasters.”
Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, called the pipeline “a threat to our water, our air, and our climate.”
“We will continue to argue that Congress’ greenlight of this dangerous pipeline was unconstitutional, and will exhaust every effort to stop it,” Williams said.
This has been updated with additional details and reaction.