From Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance’s ABRA Update 235:
Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (ACP, LLC) on June 25, 2019, filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to review the December 13, 2018 decision of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that said the U.S. Forest Service lacked the authority to grant a right-of-way for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) to cross the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (Trail). The filing by ACP, LCC of a Writ of Certiorari (appeal to a higher court a lower court’s decision) was accompanied by a similar petition by the U.S. Solicitor General. Both had been anticipated. In its petition to the Court, ACP, LLC argued that:
- “Several environmental groups challenged the pipeline on numerous grounds, including the novel theory that the Forest Service lacked statutory authority to grant a right-of-way because the entire Trail and the land underneath is National Park System land under the exclusive authority of the National Park Service. Because the MLA does not authorize any federal agency to grant pipeline rights-of-way across National Park System land, the import of this theory was not that the wrong federal agency had granted the right-of-way under the Trail, but that no agency had that power.”
- “. . .the decision imperils not just the billions of dollars invested in this pipeline, but future projects that will cross under the Trail, the 50-some pipelines that already cross under the Trail that require ongoing regulatory approvals from other state and federal agencies, and potentially other projects (including electrical transmission lines, telecommunications sites, municipal water facilities, roads, and grazing areas) that cross national trails administered by the National Park Service. “In short, the decision below is both profoundly wrong and profoundly important. It misreads federal statutes that make clear that the designation of a trail does not transfer authority over the land being crossed. It will chill investment, harm millions of energy consumers, and unsettle longheld agency views. This decision plainly warrants this Court’s plenary review.”
The Solicitor General’s petition echoes the contentions made in the ACP, LLC petition:
“. . . the court of appeals misread the National Trails System Act, decreeing that long sections of the Appalachian Trail within national forests rest on lands that are rendered part of the National Park System as a result of the presence of the Trail on the surface, and therefore cannot be subject to rights-of-way granted under the Mineral Leasing Act. That ruling threatens to hamper the development of energy infrastructure in the eastern United States, including the construction and operation of the natural gas pipeline at issue in this case.”
The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), which represents the petitioners that brought the original lawsuit before the Fourth Circuit, has 30 days (until July 25) to file a brief with the Court commenting on the ACP, LLC and Solicitor General petitions. The seven petitioners represented by SELC – all members of ABRA – are: Cowpasture River Preservation Association, Highlanders for Responsible Development, Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, Shenandoah Valley Network, Sierra Club, Virginia Wilderness Committee and Wild Virginia.
Reuters press coverage of the ACP filing is here.
From Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance’s ABRA Update 235:
The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) wrote the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) on June 24 regarding the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ December 18 decision that the USFS lacked the authority to grant a right-of-way for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) to cross the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (ANST). The SELC letter follows an April 30 communication from USFS to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (ACP, LLC) asking the company if it would like the USFS to “renew is consideration of the right-a-way application for the ACP.” The company responded in the affirmative. The SELC letter points out that:
- “(1) the Cowpasture decision does not affect the Forest Service’s other management authorities for the ANST;
- “(2) reasonable off-forest alternatives exist for the ACP to cross the ANST; and
- “(3) while the Forest Service has never before and cannot now issue a new gas pipeline right-of-way across the ANST, options exist for new pipelines to be built in the eastern United States, and existing pipelines are unaffected by the Cowpasture decision.”
SELC further explains to USFS:
- “We have examined every existing crossing of the ANST by an oil or gas pipeline and confirmed that the Forest Service has never before granted a new right-of-way for an oil or gas pipeline to cross the ANST where it traverses a national forest, until it did so for the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines.”
- “Of the pipelines that do cross the Appalachian Trail on federally-owned land, nearly all existed before the creation of the Appalachian Trail or before the land was acquired by the federal government. The Mineral Leasing Act applies only to the initial grant of a right-of-way or the renewal of temporary rights-of-way for oil and gas pipelines. See 30 U.S.C. § 185(a), (q). Permanent rights-of-way granted before the creation of the ANST as land in the National Park System are unaffected by the Cowpasture decision because they require no new authorization under the Mineral Leasing Act. Similarly, the federal government took ownership subject to any property rights for permanent rights-of-way that existed prior to federal acquisition; such property rights do not require renewal under the Mineral Leasing Act and are unaffected by the Cowpasture decision.”
This excellent update on the current legal challenges to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline comes from Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA) Update #221
The lawsuit challenging the FERC certificate for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) has finally been scheduled for briefs to be filed by April 5. The suit, which was filed August 16 with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals but was re-assigned to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, was brought on behalf of a group of ABRA member organizations and other plaintiffs. The plaintiffs are represented by Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and Appalachian Mountain Advocates (Appalmad). Arguments before the court are not expected to be scheduled until sometime in the Fall. Here’s a brief status report on two other pending cases that challenge ACP permits:
- Forest Service – The challenge to the U.S. Forest Service’s issuance of a Special Use Permit for the ACP on January 23 was filed February 5, 2018 with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Plaintiffs are a group of ABRA members and others, represented by SELC and Appalmad. The Fourth Circuit vacated the permit in a December 13 decision, thus denying the ACP the right to cross the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (ANST), which the Court said the U.S. Forest Service lacked the legal authority to grant. An appeal of that ruling to the entire Fourth Circuit (an en banc hearing before all fifteen of the Court’s judges) was denied on February 25. Dominion Energy has said it will appeal the decision by late May to the U.S. Supreme Court. That appeal has not yet been made. It is worth noting that only about one percent of the cases that are appealed to the Supreme Court are heard. In the meantime, Dominion has been lobbying Congress since the Fourth Circuit’s December decision to have language added to pending legislation that would override the Court’s vacating of the Forest Service permit to cross the ANST. To date, those lobbying efforts have not succeeded. ABRA asks that contacts be made with Members of Congress to urge them to oppose such an action. For the Action Alert, click here.
- Air Permit for Buckingham Compressor Station – The January 8 decision by the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board to grant an air permit for the proposed ACP compressor station in Buckingham County, VA was challenged in a lawsuit filed with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Friends of Buckingham. A proposed briefing schedule for the case will be filed in early May, with arguments in the case not likely until sometime this Fall.
ABRA Update 217 from Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance reports that on February 11, 2019, the US Forest Service (NFS) filed a petition for review of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in December vacating the NFS permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (ACP, LLC) had previously filed a challenge to the decision, on January 28. The NFS petition states:
. . . the Forest Service seeks rehearing of the panel’s holding that National Forest System land traversed by the Appalachian National Scenic Trail “is land in the National Park System.” Slip op. 52. That holding presents “a question of exceptional importance,” Fed. R. App. P. 35(a)(2), because it may preclude the construction of infrastructure for any pipeline across all federal lands traversed by the 2100-mile Appalachian Trail in states within the jurisdiction of this Court, and because it contradicts the plain language of the National Trails System Act and the agencies’ consistent practice over eighty years of Appalachian Trail management. The panel’s holding also calls into question the validity of dozens of Forest Service permits for electrical transmission lines, telecommunications sites, municipal water facilities, roads, and grazing areas.
Reaching this issue was unnecessary to the judgment. The Forest Service seeks rehearing to preclude the above-described holding from having precedential effect— with disruptive consequences for the many operations of the Forest Service and the Park Service in this Circuit.
The NFS petition, like the previously one filed by ACP, LLC, requests that all fifteen members of the Fourth Circuit hear the appeal. At this writing, the Court has not yet acted on either petition.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported on December 3, 2018, 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…. 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.”
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has vacated a federal approval for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross the Monongahela National Forest, George Washington National Forest, and Appalachian Trail.
Having been thwarted by the court in efforts to bend the National Forest and the National Parks Services to its will, Dominion is trying circumvent the court ruling by sneaking a last-minute amendment into a pending appropriations bill for the Department of Interior that would permit the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway near Wintergreen and Reed’s Gap.
Although we understand that (at this moment) the amendment has been pulled, we should assume that Dominion is pulling out all the stops to get something from Congress to sidestep the court’s ruling.
Write or call (or better yet, do both!) your Senators and tell them that you are upset about any possible legislative “slight of hand,” that you oppose any last minute amendments to the budget reconciliation bill, especially one that would allow gas pipelines to cross our national forests and the Appalachian Trail, and that you oppose Dominion’s efforts to make an end run around the clear and carefully considered ruling of the Fourth Circuit Court.
Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance reports that in a filing late December 13, 2018, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to revoke the certificate for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in light of the decision earlier in the day by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the U.S. Forest Service’s approval for the pipeline to cross national forest lands and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. In its 65-page letter to FERC, SELC stated:
Crucially, the court held that the Forest Service does not have statutory authority to authorize the pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail. As a result, under federal law, Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (“Atlantic”) cannot obtain authorization from federal agencies to cross the Trail as proposed. Thus, the Commission’s Certificate approves a project that cannot be constructed in compliance with federal law. Further, the proposed Appalachian Trail crossing is a linchpin in the Commission’s alternatives analysis—almost every alternative considered in the Final EIS includes this crossing point. See ACP Final EIS at 3-18 to 3-19. In light of the court’s decision, that analysis is not valid and cannot be used to approve a re-route of the project at this stage. The Commission must therefore revoke the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity. Further, the Commission must issue a formal stop-work order, effective immediately, halting all construction activities because the court’s decision means that Atlantic continues to be out of compliance with a mandatory condition of its Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity.