The U.S. Supreme Court sided with the developers of a natural gas pipeline project, clearing some of the obstacles to the completion of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline by ruling this week that the U.S. Forest Service had the authority to grant the right-of-way to the pipeline to pass through the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.
Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a US$7.5 billion project proposed by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, is a 604-mile natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina along a route that crosses 16 miles of land within the George Washington National Forest. The project had secured a special use permit from the United States Forest Service, obtaining a right-of-way to go underneath a portion of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, which also crosses the National Forest.
But environmentalists and other associations appealed the permit at the Fourth Circuit court, which vacated that permit, effectively halting the project.
Now the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 ruling on Monday, overturned the lower court’s ruling to vacate the permit.
“Because the Department of the Interior’s decision to assign responsibility over the Appalachian Trail to the National Park Service did not transform the land over which the Trail passes into land within the National Park System, the Forest Service had the authority to issue the special use permit,” the justices wrote.
Commenting on the Supreme Court’s decision, Atlantic Coast Pipeline said:
“This is a major victory for the project—it paves the way for the ACP to be completed and bring jobs to the region, stimulate the economy and lead us to a cleaner energy future.”
According to ACP, “For decades, more than 50 other pipelines have safely crossed the Trail without disturbing its public use.”
“We are currently resolving the other pending permits to ensure the ACP resumes construction this year,” the project developers said.
DJ Gerken, Southern Environmental Law Center Program Director, said:
“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.”
This win for the Trump Administration and the natural gas pipeline comes a week after the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a new final rule saying that an approved natural gas project cannot proceed with construction until the commission acts on all requests for rehearing—a new rule that is likely to delay the construction of natural gas pipelines and increase the costs for the project owners.