November 2019, Vol. 246, No. 11

Global News

US Supreme Court to Hear Appalachian Trail Pipeline Fight

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal by Dominion Energy and President Donald Trump’s administration of a lower court ruling that halted construction of the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline under a section of the Appalachian Trail in rural Virginia. 

The administration and companies involved in the $7.5 billion project, including North Carolina’s Duke Energy, have asked the justices to overturn a ruling that the U.S. Forest Service lacks authority to grant a right-of-way for the pipeline. 

The Supreme Court’s ruling, due before its term ends in June 2020, could also affect the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline project, which is intended to run from West Virginia to southern Virginia and crosses the trail in the Jefferson National Forest.

The Forest Service granted a right of way under the trail in January 2018, prompting lawsuits by environmental groups, and an appeals court ruled in December 2018 that the Forest Service lacks the authority to grant a right of way under a federal law called the Mineral Leasing Act. The court cited a section of the law that says federal agencies can grant rights of way for pipelines on “federal lands” but specifically excludes land that is part of the federal National Park system like the Appalachian Trail.

The Trump administration, however, is disputing that interpretation. Solicitor General Noel Francisco contended in court filings that the National Park Service has only limited authority to maintain the trail and that the Forest Service has the authority to approve rights of way across it.

Lawyers for the pipeline noted that more than 50 pipelines already cross under the trail, arguing in court filings that the appeals court ruling has the effect of “rendering the footpath a 2,200-mile barrier separating resource-rich areas to its west from consumers to its east.”

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