The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) is strongly opposed to the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline project, which would dramatically scar the scenic landscape of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.), produce irreversible damage to local ecosystems, and potentially cause local cities and towns that rely on outdoor recreation-based tourism to lose significant revenues.
This rendering highlights the negative impact that the Mountain Valley Pipeline will have on the Virginia and West Virginia landscape,
disrupting iconic views along the A.T. for up to 100 miles.
The ATC has a history of working with various industries to ensure that the energy needs of the public are met while simultaneously preserving the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains and the unique hiking experience that the A.T. provides.
However, after studying the woefully inaccurate Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline and witnessing the inadequacies of the environmental compliance process initiated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), we feel the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline threatens the A.T. on an unprecedented scale.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline is designed to deliver natural gas to Virginia and West Virginia, though it has been mired in controversy since its initial proposal. The pipeline would carry fracked natural gas for over 300 miles through the Virginia and West Virginia countryside, crossing over dozens of water sources, protected areas and, at one point, over the A.T. itself. The proposed project fails to meet numerous criteria the ATC laid out in a 2015 policy offering guidance on proposed natural gas pipeline projects.
The ATC, the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club and many other local stakeholders provided input on how the project could be adjusted to avoid unnecessary environmental hazards and unsightly alterations to Appalachian vistas — including following existing infrastructure corridors already cut into the landscape — but, unfortunately, almost all of this advice went unheeded.
Here are some of the major concerns we have about the Mountain Valley Pipeline:
- Permanent damage to iconic views along the Appalachian Trail
The FERC DEIS failed to study the visual impact the Mountain Valley Pipeline would have on the A.T. and the surrounding area. Multiple iconic viewpoints in Virginia are predicted to be severely impacted, including Angels Rest, Kelly Knob, Rice Fields, Dragons Tooth and others — some of the most visited and photographed locations on the entire A.T. The proposed route for the project would require the creation of a 125-foot "utility corridor" around the pipeline which would effectively eliminate thousands of acres of pristine forest. The ATC will be performing its own visual simulations to understand the full impact of the pipeline, though we predict that the pipeline corridor could be viewed from over 20 miles away at many viewpoints.
- Health and safety concerns for nearby communities and the surrounding environment.
Numerous safety concerns loom over the Mountain Valley Pipeline as well. Situated on land that is geologically unstable — crossing over a designated seismic zone — the risk of severe erosion, landslides and pipeline failure are extremely high. Such instability also poses a high likelihood of natural gas leaks, which could poison the surrounding environment and contaminate the groundwater used by nearby communities.
- Harmful changes to the Jefferson National Forest Management Plan
In order to accommodate the visual and environmental damage that would be caused by the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the U.S. Forest Service agreed to lower the Jefferson National Forest Management Plan standards for water quality, visual impacts, the removal of old-growth forest, and the number of simultaneous projects passing through the borders of federally protected land. This unprecedented change is extremely ill-considered, not only because it would permit the Mountain Valley Pipeline to destroy thousands of acres of pristine forest, but it would open the gates for future infrastructure projects to cause similar destruction. All of these changes were made without sufficient public review or input from other partners — a rash and dangerous change from the standards previously established through decades of cooperation.
- A potentially significant impact on the economy for nearby communities.
The negative impact this pipeline would have on nearby Pearisburg and Narrows, Virginia — each a designated A.T. Community™ — would reach beyond safety concerns. These communities are staunch supporters of the A.T. and benefit from tourism dollars provided by hikers and other visitors. This economic study highlights some of the potential impacts the pipeline would have on the income and property values in the surrounding areas. Both Pearisburg and Narrows have passed resolutions opposing the pipeline, as the wellbeing of their communities is at risk.
The ATC does not take this position lightly — for months, we have attempted to find ways to minimize environmental and visual impacts through collaboration with Mountain Valley Pipeline officials and the project's various partners, including the U.S. Forest Service. However, due to the massive impact the proposed project would have on the Appalachian Trail, the surrounding environment, and multiple communities and small businesses, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy strongly opposes the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and we urge our members, the A.T. hiking community, outdoor lovers, and the citizens of Virginia and West Virginia to stand with us.