High Court Says Stalled $8B Virginia Pipeline Can Cross Appalachian Trail
Construction of the proposed $8-billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline overcame a major hurdle June 15 when the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed U.S. Forest Service authority to allow it to cross under the AppalachianTrail, but the 604-mile natural gas line has other obstacles to overcome including a challenge to its main permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The Forest Service challenged a lower court decision to reject its permission granted in 2018 for a 16-mile segment of the project 600-feet below the trail in Virginia. The lower court said the trail had become part of the National Park system and under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Park Service
The high court ruling settles a dispute between two federal agencies and several federal laws.
Because the pipeline would cross under a portion of the Appalachian Trail located in a national forest, the high court ruled that the Forest Service did not lose its jurisdiction over the federal lands when it turned over management of the area to the Park Service.
Dominion Energy, part owner of the line, termed the ruling "a major victory that paves the way" for its completion. The firm said its is currently resolving other permit issues to resume construction this year. Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas also are owners, but Southern Company dropped its 5% share in the project earlier this year.
The pipeline would transport fracked natural gas from the Utica and Marcellus gas fields in West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina.
The project’s FERC approval is under review by the Washington, D.C. federal appeals court. The case will decide if FERC correctly determined in its 2017 approval that the pipeline is needed to fuel gas-fired projects, the Southern Environmental Law Center said. The court is expected to hear arguments later this year.
While the developer says communities in coastal Virginia and eastern North Carolina face chronic shortages of natural gas, opponents argue that states are steering their energy economies away from fossil fuels.
“Dominion Energy told Virginia regulators that the build out of new gas-fired power plants is no longer viable in the state,” says the environmental group
The project still needs eight additional permits.
Regardless of the outcome of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the high court’s decision allows developers to plan pipeline routes with more certainty related to potential crossing of the 2,000-mile long Appalachian Trail, said Mark Burghardt, a partner at law firm Dorsey & Whitney.