Federal court throws out permit for Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross Appalachian Trail

Federal court throws out permit for Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross Appalachian Trail

Richmond Times Dispatch | December 13, 2018

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has thrown out a permit issued by the U.S. Forest Service that would allow the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross beneath the Appalachian Trail and 21 miles of steep national forest land in Virginia and West Virginia.

A three-judge panel of the court on Thursday found that the Forest Service had “abdicated its responsibility to preserve national forest resources” and sent the permit back to the federal agency to correct under the guidance of the 60-page ruling, written by Judge Stephanie D. Thacker of West Virginia.

The decision creates a major barrier for Dominion Energy, lead partner in the project, which had changed the proposed route in early 2015 to cross the Appalachian Trail on Forest Service land expressly to avoid the need for an act of Congress to allow the pipeline to cross the national scenic trail. The original route would have crossed the trail about 8 miles north near Afton, but the Park Service said it had no authority to permit it.

Dominion’s allies in Congress reportedly are considering an amendment to a pending appropriations bill for the Department of Interior that would permit the crossing of the Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway near Reed’s Gap.

Dominion spokesman Aaron Ruby said the company would appeal the panel’s decision to the entire 4th Circuit for review.

“We strongly disagree with the court’s ruling,” Ruby said in a statement that said the appeals county had “undermined the judgment of the dedicated, career professionals at nearly every federal agency that has reviewed this project.”

“If allowed to stand, this decision will severely harm consumers and do great damage to our economy and energy security,” he said. “Public utilities are depending on this infrastructure to meet the basic energy needs of millions of people and businesses in our region.”