Court tosses permit for pipeline to cross Appalachian Trail
A permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross two national forests, including parts of the Appalachian Trail, was thrown out Thursday by a federal appeals court that harshly criticized regulators for approving the proposal.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond blasted the U.S. Forest Service for
to build the natural gas pipeline through parts of the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests, and granting a right of way across the Appalachian Trail.
"A thorough review of the record leads to the necessary conclusion that the Forest Service abdicated its responsibility to preserve national forest resources," Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote for the panel in the unanimous ruling.
The court said the agency had "serious environmental concerns" about the project that were "suddenly, and mysteriously, assuaged in time to meet a private pipeline company's deadlines."
The ruling also quoted "The Lorax" by Dr. Seuss, saying the Forest Service is trusted to "speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues."
About 21 miles of the 600-mile-long project are located on National Forest Service lands, including where it will cross the Appalachian Trail.
The Forest Service said at the time of approval that construction of the pipeline would impact approximately 430 acres of National Forest System lands during construction, but restoration after construction would bring the impact acreage to 214 for long-term operation.
Prior to lawsuits over the decision, pipeline construction in the forestland was supposed to begin by April 2018, falling in line with the original timeline to have the pipeline transporting natural gas by the end of 2019.
A month before the 2017 Forest Service decision, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
, detailing the potential impacts of the entire 604-mile-long route, including the portion that cross 5.1 miles of the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia, and 15.9 miles of the George Washington National Forest in Virginia.
The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Sierra Club, Virginia Wilderness Committee and other environmental groups. Patrick Hunter, a staff attorney for the center, said the ruling is a "huge problem" for Dominion.
"Their whole route is designed to cross the Appalachian Trail at this one location," Hunter said.
"That means this pipeline — as they've designed it — is not a viable project at this point."
A Dominion Energy spokesman said the company is reviewing the ruling and had no immediate comment.
The natural gas pipeline would run through parts of West Virginia, North Carolina and Virginia.
The 4th Circuit previously
issued by the Park Service that would have allowed the pipeline to pass underneath the Blue Ridge Parkway. Dominion Energy later submitted a revised permit application, approved by the service.
The full statement from Atlantic Coast Pipeline spokesperson Aaron Ruby can be found below:
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