Supreme Court Removes Barrier to Atlantic Coast Pipeline

June 18, 2020

The Supreme Court of the United States has removed a major barrier to construction of the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). In a 7-2 ruling published Monday, June 15, the Supreme Court ruled that the ACP could pass under the Appalachian Trail.

The case took up the question of whether or not the United States Forest Service had authority under the Mineral Leasing Act to grant rights-of-way in national forest lands that are crossed by the Appalachian Trail. In the opinion, the majority argued that the Forest Service did indeed have the rights to grant permits for rights-of-ways within national forest lands traversed by the Appalachian Trail.

The ACP’s proposed path in Virginia will require it to tunnel under the Appalachian Trail. Already, the Appalachian Trail is traversed by other pipelines 34 times in Virginia. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the plaintiffs argued, will be no different than these other pipeline crossings and will be constructed in a way to ensure that the project is hundreds of feet below the surface and emerges from the ground over half of mile away on either side of the trail.

Despite this ruling, the future of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project is still in the air. While the Supreme Court removed this particular hurdle, a decision from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that struck down the Forest Service’s permit itself still stands. Dominion Energy must still consider alternative routes for the ACP that avoid protected land, and if reasonable alternatives do exist, the U.S. Forest Service is in turn prohibited from approving this original route across the Appalachian Trail.

VACo Contact: Chris McDonald, Esq.

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