Just this morning, the Supreme Court handed down a verdict that will allow the construction of a natural gas pipeline, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, below a section of the Appalachian Trail.
We’ve covered the proposed pipeline and the lower court verdict that blocked the pipeline’s construction briefly, and the case as argued before SCOTUS, writing:
At issue is an $8 billion, 600-mile-long pipeline that would transfer natural gas from where it is sourced in Pennsylvania and West Virginia to customers in Virginia and North Carolina. Back in 2017 the US Forest Service approved a permit for the pipeline that would run through a portion of the George Washington National Forest, over which the US Forest Service has jurisdiction.
The pipeline would be [hundreds of feet] underground as it passes through national forests and the AT, but with a 50-foot swath of clearcut above the pipeline along its length.
But the Appalachian Trail is technically a unit of the National Park Service, to be governed by the NPS.
That last bit about competing jurisdictions proved a sticky bit of legal maneuvering.
“If, in fact, the Appalachian Trail is part of the National Park System, then the Forest Service had no authority to authorize this tunneling underneath it for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” Noah Sachs, a professor of environmental law at the University of Richmond said before today’s ruling.
Attorneys arguing in favor of the pipeline and its parent company, Dominion Energy, said that the NPS runs the trail itself, while the USFS manages the land the trail sits on, and, therefore, the land beneath the trail.
Environmental groups, as well as Virginia’s 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, the lower court that famously cited Dr. Seuss’s book, the Lorax in its ruling against the pipeline, argued that the USFS had not sufficiently showed there would be no environmental harm in allowing the pipeline to go forward.
This, as well as the claim that the NPS ultimately had jurisdiction over the pipeline, were ultimately not compelling to SCOTUS, which argued that the Mineral Leasing Act allowed the USFS to decide the pipeline was valuable enough to move forward.
“While today’s decision was not what we hoped for, it addresses only one of the many problems faced by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. This is not a viable project. It is still missing many required authorizations, including the Forest Service permit at issue in today’s case, and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will soon consider the mounting evidence that we never needed this pipeline to supply power,” DJ Gerken, with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which sued over the pipeline, said in a statement.
In a story we’ll report on later this week, the USFS has recently been given a green light to shift focus to natural resource extraction with expedited regulatory relief. The construction of this pipeline, though embattled for several years now, seems to match that focus.
The SCOTUS ruling cut across ideological lines. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and liberal Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were the only dissenters.