A Catholic Community Shares the Experience of Being a ‘Neighbor’ to the MVP in Southern West Virginia

Editor’s note: This is the final article of a four-part series on the decision by the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to Vacate a Clean Water Certification from the West Virginia DEP for the MVP. You can read the previous articles here, here and here.

ALDERSON, W.Va. – On April 3, The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated a Clean Water Certification from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). The decision stopped construction of the MVP, though only temporarily.

As I noted yesterday, we solicited comments about the Court’s decision from several people I’ve come to know in my reporting upon fracking and related pipeline development. I provided three prompts for responses (below). Several responses were published yesterday. One group I contacted was the Catholic Committee of Appalachia (CCA). They offered a response, which is from CCA member and Director Eric Fitts of Bethlehem Farm, a Catholic community within one mile of the MVP in southern West Virginia. His responses follow the Prompts.


  1. Offer a comment on this decision.
  2. In a brief comment, add anything you’d like to say about your experiences with the MVP.
  3. What are your thoughts about its future, in particular efforts by Sen. Joe Manchin to have it fast tracked through Congress, hence bypassing the regulatory/judicial process.

1. The main problem with the MVP is that we do not need any more carbon released into Earth’s atmosphere, due to the worsening effects of climate change, the ecological, spiritual and emotional costs of which are detailed at length in the papal encyclical Laudato Si’: On the Care of Our Common Home and by many others. The fracking industry that the MVP would support is a serious polluter, which was detailed at length in CCA’s pastoral letter The Telling Takes Us Home: Taking Our Place in the Stories that Shape UsSpecifically, the pastoral letter states: “Whatever the perceived benefits, the human and ecological costs are severe. Construction of well pads, pipelines, compressor stations, and more, disturb the natural world and disrupt the lives of families and whole communities all over the country, many of them here in Appalachia. Some of the drilling activity has been welcomed by landowners because of short-term economic benefit. Other landowners struggle with invasive drilling tactics and conflicts over the legal meaning of land and resource rights, a story with which coalfield residents are familiar” (43). The MVP project, its use of eminent domain for private gain, its potential to pollute our living waters, and the further fragmentation of the Eastern Hardwood Forest, disrupting local ecologies, is another example of how the people and place of Appalachia are one of many “crucified peoples” and “crucified places”, as detailed in the pastoral letter: “Today we look around our world and we cannot help but be moved, and perhaps overwhelmed by, the masses of crucified people, the Body of Christ which continues to suffer in history” (122). “And it is true that Earth suffers under the unbearable weight of destructive human activity, such as the overuse of resources. We have really only begun to hear and take to heart the cry of the crucified Earth, a planet that is undergoing a Golgotha experience that can only be described as ecocide. But there are also specific crucified places, wounds of Christ in our world that affect both people and the land in ways particular to their locations and that cry out to be heard and felt. We believe that new life for the planet is inseparable from new life in crucified places” (123).

For many landowners on the MVP route, the decision of The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to vacate a Clean Water Certification (401 permit) from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection for the Mountain Valley Pipeline is very welcome news.

The ruling confirms what many of us along the route have known since construction began. Construction activities have released sediment into West Virginia streams in amounts that threaten the health of any stream impacted by the route.  Prior to granting the 401 permit, DEP documented an ongoing pattern of significant violations, yet the 401 “permit” did not build in adequate safeguards and requirements to ensure that construction going forward would minimize short- and long-term negative impacts to the streams of the state. 

MVP’s citations for water quality violations in West Virginia specifically address the release of sediment into streams along the route.  By granting the 401 permit, WVDEP refused to take these violations seriously.  Given MVP’s record of violations of water quality standards during construction, WVDEP cannot ensure that MVP will suddenly do the right thing.

The Court saw this contradiction and ruled that granting the permit in these circumstances was a capricious act by WVDEP.

Coupled with the landslides caused by construction activity on steep mountain slopes, the MVP remains a source of potentially devastating damage to the waters of our state.  In Summers County, the MVP is positioned to cross the Greenbrier River at Pence Springs.  The MVP has not demonstrated it has either the expertise or the commitment to undertake a river crossing of this magnitude successfully.  Those of us who love the Greenbrier River fear for the damage the MVP could do that couldn’t be undone.  And those of us who live along the small streams that feed into the Greenbrier – fed by headwater streams which rise in the steep slopes of our mountains – fear that the water our household wells depend on will be diverted or contaminated by further MVP construction and post-construction activity.

Dusk along the Greenbrier River in Alderson, W.Va.

2. Bethlehem Farm lies within one mile of the MVP route, which is well within the 1.4-mile evacuation zone of the MVP, a 42-inch pipe with a maximum operating pressure of 1,400 pounds per square inch. The MVP has been disruptive to many creatures in its path, including human communities and habitats of other plants and animals. First, there was the arrogance and attitude of superiority from the surveyors and salesmen trying to purchase rights of way from our neighbors, often caught trespassing and using scare tactics and pressure campaigns, even on our elderly neighbors. Then came the edict from FERC that this project was in the public interest and right of way across our neighbors’ properties would be forcibly sold to MVP by order of our own government – those who resisted received paltry compensation for this taking. Next there was the influx of workers from out of town (so much for all of the “local jobs” it was going to create) who began stripping the Eastern Hardwood Forest off of the 303-mile long, 150-ft wide MVP route. The sound of the dismembering of the trees was sickening to hear during that entire first summer and now piles of tree trunks still litter the MVP route, wasted. The carving out of the right of way across mountain ridges diverted or ruined age-old springs and changed watersheds, so that for one neighbor a reliable pond used to water livestock turned into a useless mud hole as it was no longer fed by springs and runoff. Then came the rains and the massive topsoil loss down the steep slopes of Dempsey and Keaney Mountains, as with so many other slopes along the MVP route. That fall, a plague of “blue tongue” swept through the local deer population, killing maybe half of the deer in our local herds, with rotting corpses found near many water sources, as they struggled to survive in their last moments. None of us knew for sure where the “blue tongue” came from, but some said that the insect that transmits the disease may very well have come in with the straw that was used for erosion control and seeding on the MVP route – and the timing was uncanny. Now, the threat of destructive water crossings still looms in the shadows, with some neighbors fearing that wells and groundwater will be ruined as bedrock is blasted to get the pipe under the bed of Hungart’s Creek and many of fearing the worst consequences in the crossing of the Greenbrier River, at 162 miles the longest untamed (unblocked) river in the eastern US (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenbrier_River). 

The Greenbrier River in Alderson, W.Va.

3. Senator Manchin is attempting to get Congress to approve the completion of the MVP by yoking it to permitting “reform” for future energy projects.  While we should not be surprised by this tactic, it does not bode well for any community in the country that Manchin is misrepresenting principled judicial review as something that should be circumvented.  In Manchin’s world, judicial review of environmentally costly projects just gets in the way.  For people and communities in the cross hairs of a major energy project, judicial review makes it possible for the real cost of a project to be examined by independent review.  Neither the corporate sponsors of the MVP nor FERC provides independent assessments of the environmental costs to people, communities, and homeplaces.  In our democracy, it is the courts who provide that review on behalf of the people.

Eric Fitts (Loyola University Chicago, 1999; West Virginia U, 2007) lives in Clayton, WV, with his wife Colleen, and three children. Eric and Colleen are part of the founding group of Catholic Committee of Appalachia member Bethlehem Farm, where Eric has served as Director since 2007. Bethlehem Farm is a Catholic community in Appalachia that transforms lives through serving with the local community and teaching sustainable practices.  Eric & Colleen live in community with fellow Caretakers and invite volunteers from across the country to join them in living the Gospel cornerstones of prayer, community, simplicity, and service. Eric also serves on the board of Nazareth Farm, Bethlehem’s sister farm, and Sprouting Farms, a nonprofit that combines education, resource sharing, land access, and food production models to support new & beginning farmers, jump-start local wholesale market channels, and help nurture the local farming community. Eric’s other passions include raising barefoot children, working in the garden, running, hiking and stargazing. Eric thanks Susan Bouldin, whose family’s homeplace is within the blast zone of the MVP route, for contributing to this response.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2023

Want to learn more about the MVP, fracking and pipeline construction? Check out my new book, Fractured Sanctuary: A Chronicle of Grassroots Activists Fighting Pipelines of Destruction in Appalachia.


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