Category Archives: Appalachian Trail

Fourth Circuit Court Throws out ACP’s Forest Service Permit


On December 13, 2018, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a federal approval for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross the Monongahela National Forest, George Washington National Forest, and Appalachian Trail.

The case was argued before the Court on September 28, 2018, with the Southern Environmental Law Canter and Appalachian Mountain Advocates representing the plaintiffs.

The Court found that the Forest Service “abdicated its responsibility to preserve national forest resources,” and noted the agency’s “serious environmental concerns that were suddenly, and mysteriously, assuaged in time to meet a private pipeline company’s deadlines.” The opinion says the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act, National Forest Management Act, and did not have authority under the Mineral Leasing Act to grant a right-of-way across the Appalachian Trail.

Read the Court’s opinion here.

See news coverage from Virginia Mercury here.

See news coverage from the Richmond Times-Dispatch here.

Be aware: The Richmond Times-Dispatch points out that, “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.”  Additional information hereContact your Senators and Representatives to urge them to oppose any legislative amendment that would give the National Park Service unchecked authority to allow pipeline construction.

Congressional Act to Allow Pipelines to Cross Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway?


Say “NO!”

On December 3, 2018, KPVI6 reported that “Legislation is pending in Congress that would give the National Park Service clear authority to allow construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline beneath the Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway, both potentially critical obstacles under litigation pending in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Dominion Energy, lead partner in the $7 billion project, confirmed the legislative proposal, which first surfaced in a blog post from an Alabama group that suggested aid for the 600-mile natural gas pipeline is ‘tucked into the omnibus spending bill’ being negotiated by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.”

Dominion’s Aaron Ruby emailed the Richmond Times-Dispatch, saying that, “Congress is considering a legislative amendment that would explicitly authorize the park service to grant a permit for such a crossing.”

The Park Service has twice issued permits for the ACP to cross the Parkway. After the first permit was issued, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated it in early August as an “arbitrary and capricious” exercise of the agency’s powers. At the same time, the Court also issued a stay of the permit the Forest Service issued for the ACP to cross the Appalachian Trail. After the two agencies [minimally] revised their permits, FERC lifted the stay order, but appeals against the reissued permits are pending, and legal briefs to the Court are due at the end of this week.

In vacating the Park Service permit in early August, Judge Gregory did not rule decisively on whether the Park Service has authority to issue the permit under the Blue Ridge Parkway Organic Act, but he said it had failed to show how the project is consistent with the purposes of the parkway and National Park System. For example, the Park Service had conducted a visibility study and found that because the crossing at Reeds Gap near the Wintergreen entrance would be very visible, it would “thus significantly decreasing the park’s scenic value.”

In trying to get Congress to pass a bill (buried in the omnibus spending bill where they surely hoped no one would notice it) giving the Park Service authority to allow construction, Dominion is clearly trying to make an end run around pending Court rulings that might not be in their favor. Austin “DJ” Gerken, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, commented, “It’s disappointing but not surprising that Dominion would try to bend the law to its will. It’s already tried to bend the agencies to its will.” And he added, “The fact that Dominion is trying to work around [the law] before it even knows what the court has ruled is really shocking and bold.”

Take action! Contact your Senators and Representatives to urge them to oppose any legislative amendment that would give the National Park Service unchecked authority to allow pipeline construction. Contact Senator Shelby and other members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Senator Kaine’s office says he does not support the measure, so thank Senator Kaine for protecting the land held in common for all of us to enjoy.

Coalition Voices Concern about Atlantic Coast Pipeline

The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks is a non-profit organization composed of retired, former, or current employees of the National Park Service that studies, educates, speaks, and acts for the preservation of our National Park System. On November 12, 2018, Philip A. Francis, Jr., Chair of the Coalition and a former superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, wrote to the Acting Director of the National Park Service on behalf of the Coalition “to express our concern about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the permit that the National Park Service has granted to allow a natural gas pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway.”

In his letter, Mr. Francis says, “There is no evidence that impacts to the critical views enjoyed by millions of Parkway visitors were considered in this decision. There also is no indication that the Service considered the cumulative effects of this action on visitors’ enjoyment of Parkway resources, the impact to the hundreds of businesses that benefit from the millions of visitors with an economic impact exceeding $1 billion annually, or the precedent that this decision would create that could lead to further deterioration of Parkway views. This decision is contrary to decades of past decisions made by superintendents of the Parkway, and the National Park Service.”

The NPS Organic Act requires the Park Service to “provide for the enjoyment of the same by such means and in such manner as to leave them unimpaired for future generations,” and Francis cites numerous examples of ways in which Parkway staff have worked over time to protect the Parkway for current and future visitors.

“Nothing should be done in derogation of park values. Decisions that adversely affect Parkway scenic views are actions that result in derogation of park values, which impact visitor experiences and potentially have an adverse effect to the economies of at least the 29 counties in Virginia and North Carolina. The Park Service has failed to properly administer the requirements provided by NPS policy and law, and the use of a categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act to authorize this permit for the pipeline is inappropriate and appears to have been made to accomplish political goals instead.”

On behalf of the Coalition, Francis “respectfully requests that the National Park Service reconsider its decision on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline by, as an initial matter, holding a scoping procedure to consider what level of NEPA compliance is necessary and obtaining the input of the public.”

Read the full letter here.

Hands Across the Appalachian Trail


Saturday, September 22 -10:30 am to 12:30 pm, Blue Ridge Parkway, Humpback Rocks Visitor Center, Milepost 5.8.

Join hands to protect our land, water, air, communities, and natural treasures from the threats posed by unnecessary, unwanted, and unnatural fracked gas pipelines at our Third annual Hands Across the Appalachian Trail!

The dedicated work of hundreds of volunteers, community groups and allies, and dedicated individuals has led to Stop Work Orders and further delays of the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines. These pipelines propose to cross several nationally known and highly popular public recreational areas including the George Washington National Forest, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Eastern Trail, and the iconic Appalachian Trail.

Hands Across the Appalachian Trail is our community response to protect valued natural parks and environment. This event will be an opportunity for people to come together and celebrate our treasured natural resources, celebrate victories won by the hard work of dedicated volunteers and legal advocates, and continue building fellowship and momentum around the continued effort to stand against unnatural gas fossil fuel projects and fight for a safe, sustainable future that all can enjoy!

Now in its third year this event features the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s vision to “connect the human spirit with nature – preserving the delicate majesty of the Trail as a haven for all to enjoy.” Everyone should have the opportunity for that experience. Come enjoy food, music, and celebrate our natural resources.

This Hands Across the Appalachian Trail event will take place at the Humpback Rocks Visitors Center in Nelson County. Events will also be held at the Route 100 Trail Head intersection with the A.T. in Giles Countyand at the Bears Den Lodge in Loudon County.

For more information, directions, or answers to any questions, contact Kirk Bowers, Sierra Club Pipelines Campaign Coordinator, at kirk.bowers@sierraclub.org.

Directions: Take Interstate 64 to Exit 99 at the top of Afton Mountain. Follow signs on Route 250 to Blue Ridge Parkway. Turn right onto Blue Ridge Parkway. Travel 5.8 miles to Humpback Rocks Visitor Center and Picnic Area.

Dominion’s Assault on the Blue Ridge


An update from the Pipeline Compliance Surveillance Initiative, Alleghany-Blue Ridge Alliance:

As reported previously, aerial photographs of apparent unauthorized construction work where Dominion Energy proposes to drill through the Blue Ridge Mountains for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline were obtained during recent surveillance flights conducted by the Pipeline Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI), a program of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA). Requests for investigation and clarification were submitted to FERC and the Virginia DEQ.

In response to media inquiries concerning “noncompliance with restrictions against earth disturbance and construction prior to receipt of required approvals,” Dominion spokesman, Aaron Ruby, asserted that the company is doing nothing of the sort, and that it is instead doing a geotechnical survey. See Pipeline prep area allegedly being constructed, citizen group files against FERC, News Leader, 3/23/18

CSI Investigator, David Sligh, has responded on behalf of ABRA, objecting to Mr. Ruby’s characterization of the construction activity and noting that over a year ago, when pipeline opponents objected to inadequate geotechnical study of the proposed drilling, Dominion responded by declaring that geotechnical investigation had been “fully accomplished.” See Dominion’s pipeline story doesn’t add up, Letter to News Leader, 3/30/18

The Backstory and a Warning 

Dominion intends to drill 4,639 feet through the Blue Ridge under the George Washington National Forest, Appalachian National Scenic Trail, and Blue Ridge Parkway. Dominion’s plans call for use of horizontal directional drilling (HDD) and contingency use of direct pipe installation (DPI) if the HDD operation fails. Given the topographic and geophysical challenges at the site, the Forest Service initially conditioned any authorization for ACP construction on prior successful completion of the proposed HDD or DPI operations. This condition would have avoided a situation in which significant investment associated with premature ACP construction would be put at risk and in direct conflict with established legal protection of highly valued public resources. Should the HDD and DPI prove impracticable after ACP construction is underway, there will be a strong incentive for allowing an open-cut crossing of the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The proposed drilling operations will have an extreme environmental footprint, requiring extensive excavation for entry and exit workspace, pipe pullback, fabrication, and testing workspace, as well as siting of heavy equipment for pipe handling, and a network of access roads – all on steep mountainsides with multiple stream crossings. As with other aspects of the ACP, the public and regulatory review agencies have not had access to detailed construction plans. The areas and amount of excavation required for construction have been imprecisely specified at best.

The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition published a report in early 2017 describing both the risk of failure and the unavoidable environmental damage associated with the plans for drilling through the Blue Ridge. This report described the risk factors confronting both the HDD and contingency DPI operations. Although detailed geophysical investigation of the drill path is standard practice for assessing the feasibility of prospective HDD and DPI operations, the information considered during environmental review was limited in both scope and reliability. No subsurface borings were completed at or near the HDD endpoints and geophysical survey data were obtained for less than 25% of the drill path. See A High-Risk Proposal: Drilling Through the Blue Ridge Mountains for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Now, we learn that Dominion Energy is belatedly collecting data that should have been collected and made available during environmental review. 

Dominion Energy knows how to game the system:  defer collection and analysis of essential environmental data until after the review process is concluded and approvals have been obtained. 

Further info:

CSI Incident Report – submitted to DEQ, 3/13/18

Request for Investigation – Submitted to FERC, 3/22/18

Peters Mountain Tree Sit


A March 13, 2018, video from Appalachians Against Pipelines includes footage of trees being felled during Monday’s snowstorm – right up to the base of the sit.

Appalachians Against Pipelines says, “Currently, the only thing physically standing in the way of pipeline construction is the tree sit on Peters Mountain. People in trees are doing what our ‘representatives’ and ‘regulators’ refuse to do — they’re protecting land, water, and communities of Appalachia from corporations that believe their money gives them the right to pillage this land and pollute our water.”