Fourth Circuit Court: Forest Service cannot permit Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross Appalachian Trail

atlantic coast pipelineToday the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the US Forest Service’s federal approval for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross two national forests and the Appalachian Trail.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a 600 mile-long $7 billion dollar project proposed to run from West Virginia, through Virginia and North Carolina.

“The George Washington National Forest, Monongahela National Forest and the Appalachian Trail are national treasures.  The Administration was far too eager to trade them away for a pipeline conceived to deliver profit to its developers, not gas to consumers.  This pipeline is unnecessary and asking fracked gas customers to pay developers to blast this boondoggle through our public lands only adds insult to injury,” said Southern Environmental Law Center Attorney Patrick Hunter.

The Court’s ruling today found the Forest Service approval fell short of federal requirements. The Forest Service failed to take a hard look at environmental impacts of the project from risks of landslide and erosion and ignored its obligation to consider routes that avoid national forests entirely.

The Court also ruled that the Forest Service cannot authorize the ACP to cross the Appalachian Trail which is part of the National Park System.  Congress has rightfully given national parks priority protection from harmful projects like fracked gas pipelines. In its decision the Court said, “A thorough review of the record leads to the necessary conclusion that the Forest Service abdicated its responsibility to preserve national forest resources.”

“The Fourth Circuit has made clear what everyone but the polluting corporations behind the pipeline already knew; ACP failed to show it is possible to build this pipeline without causing massive landslides that threaten pristine forests and clean water,” said Sierra Club Senior Attorney Nathan Matthews. “This decision reinforces that the tide has turned against fracked gas pipelines. These dirty and destructive projects are no longer a done deal. It’s simple, there is no right way to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline — or any fracked gas pipeline. For the sake of our health, climate, communities, and its own ratepayers, Dominion should abandon this dirty, dangerous project once and for all.”

Several other federal permits for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline are in question and a case is pending challenging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s certification of the entire project.

Dominion Energy spokesperson Aaron Ruby issued the following statement on the ruling:

“We strongly disagree with the court’s ruling. The court’s decision is at odds with the consensus of the U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service. All of these agencies agree that the Forest Service has the full legal authority to approve the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s crossing of the Appalachian Trail (AT). Under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, for decades 56 other oil and gas pipelines have operated across the AT. This opinion brings into question whether or not these existing pipelines can remain in place.

“With this decision, the Fourth Circuit has now undermined the judgment of the dedicated, career professionals at nearly every federal agency that has reviewed this project.

“We are immediately appealing the court’s decision to the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. If allowed to stand, this decision will severely harm consumers and do great damage to our economy and energy security. Public utilities are depending on this infrastructure to meet the basic energy needs of millions of people and businesses in our region.

“We are confident we will prevail on appeal. Opponents’ tactics in the courts are not doing anything to provide additional protection of the environment. They are only driving up consumer energy costs, delaying access to cleaner energy and making it harder for public utilities to reliably serve consumers and businesses.

“The Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been the most thoroughly reviewed infrastructure project in the history of our region. No other project in our region’s history has been developed with greater attention to the environment, including the national forests and the Appalachian Trail.”

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