United States Supreme Court to Consider Atlantic Coast Pipeline

By John McFerrin

            The United States Supreme Court has agreed to consider a case that may decide the fate of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.  Argument is expected in early 2020 with a decision expected by June, 2020.

            Being accepted for decision by the United States Supreme Court is a substantial step forward for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.  There are 7,000-8,000 new cases filed in the Supreme Court each year.  Review is currently granted in about 80 of those cases.

            The Court will be reviewing a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.  As proposed, the Pipeline would cross the Monongahela National Forest and the George Washington National Forest. That Court decided that the Forest Service’s decisions to allow the crossings violated the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. 

In addition to stopping the National Forests crossings, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the Forest Service did not have the statutory authority pursuant to the Mineral Leasing Act to grant a pipeline right of way across the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

Only the part of the Court of Appeals’ decision about crossing the Appalachian Trail will be considered by the Supreme Court.  Problems under the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act can be fixed.  The Forest Service has to do a more diligent job of reviewing the proposal.  If it makes that more diligent review before deciding whether or not to approve the pipeline crossings of the Forests, then it will have met the Court’s requirements.

Crossing the Appalachian Trail is another matter.  The Court of Appeals ruled that the Forest Service does not have the authority to allow a crossing.  If the Forest service doesn’t have the authority it doesn’t have the authority.  No amount of diligent review will fix that.

Now the United States Supreme Court will decide whether or not the Forest Service has the authority to allow a crossing of the Appalachian Trail.

For more information on the arguments before the Supreme Court, see the story on page 4.