A group of 18 states, led by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that blocked construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline under the Appalachian Trail.
In an amicus brief filed Monday, Morrisey argued if a December 2018 decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is upheld, the 1,000 miles of federal land along the Appalachian Trail would become off limits to this and other natural gas pipelines and into “a near-impenetrable barrier to energy development.”
Last December, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the U.S. Forest Service should not have granted the 600-mile natural gas pipeline a permit to cross under national forest lands, including the Appalachian Trail.
Judge Stephanie Thacker cited Dr. Suess’ “The Lorax” in the opinion and said the agency failed to examine environmental impacts of the project when it issued the approval.
“We trust the United States Forest Service to 'speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues,'" Thacker wrote. "A thorough review of the record leads to the necessary conclusion that the Forest Service abdicated its responsibility to preserve national forest resources."
The court threw out the pipeline’s right of way for the Appalachian Trail and found that the Forest Service does not have the authority to grant the Atlantic Coast Pipeline approval to cross under it.
The ruling could have big impacts for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s route. Pipeline developer Dominion Energy appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the friend of the court brief, Morrisey and 17 other state attorneys general said, if upheld, the lower court’s ruling could turn all federal trails into barriers to energy development.
Environmental groups who brought the case, including Cowpasture River Preservation Association, Sierra Club and others, argue in a brief filed with the Supreme Court that the 4th Circuit’s ruling should stand.
In addition to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s Appalachian Trail right-of-way, other permits and issues remain unresolved before the project can resume construction.
Oral arguments in the case are set for Feb. 24, 2020.