CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review whether construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which crosses over hundreds of miles of West Virginia, should have been halted.
The 600-mile project was halted last December after court challenges of a key permit that would have allowed the pipeline to progress under the Appalachian Trail.
The Supreme Court on Friday granted a writ of certiorari in the pipeline case, which means justices agreed to review it. One hour was allotted for oral argument.
Justices are likely to hear arguments early next year and rule by early July.
Dominion Energy says a favorable resolution of the Appalachian Trail case would allow resuming full construction by next summer and completion of the project by late 2021.
“The Supreme Court’s acceptance of our petition is a very encouraging sign and provides a clear path forward to resolve this important issue,” stated Aaron Ruby, spokesman for pipeline developer Dominion Energy. “The law and the facts are on our side, and we’re supported by a broad coalition of stakeholders.”
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey was part of a 16-state coalition urging the Supreme Court to review the pipeline case. The Attorney General’s Office released a statement today with Morrisey expressing satisfaction about the review.
“We remain hopeful this decision is a precursor to ultimate victory and an end to the unnecessary delays that have negatively impacted the livelihoods of our working class families and the services they receive,” Morrisey stated.
The environmental groups challenging the permit were led by Virginia’s Cowpasture River Preservation Association. They argued that the pipeline developer had other options, rather than to go through a portion of the Appalachian Trail under oversight of the U.S. Forest Service.
The original lawsuit challenged whether the forest service had the authority to approve a right of way.
The West Virginia Rivers Coalition was not a party to the suit but has kept an eye on it, said that organization’s director, Angie Rosser. She noted that very few federal court appeals are taken up for review and that a lot is at stake with the $7.5 billion pipeline.
“My understanding is it’s true that there are other pipelines that go under the Appalachian Trail but they go under in places that are not national park service land,” Rosser said.
“This has clearly gotten political too. So there’s a lot of pressure and a lot of investment to get this done.”
The West Virginia Rivers Coalition shares a goal of ensuring pipeline construction follows the law, Rosser said.
“We believe laws are in place to protect our natural resources and to protect our water,” she said.
“Why we’re ending up in the Supreme Court is because there has been inflexibility, it seems, about looking at other options. We do have concerns about what precedent this would set on park service land. So we’ll be watching.”
The pipeline would start in Harrison County and proceed across Lewis, Upshur, Randolph and Pocahontas counties in West Virginia before heading into Virginia and then into North Carolina.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is one of two major construction projects along with the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Each has been halted by court challenges, and a Supreme Court ruling could also affect the Mountain Valley project.
West Virginia’s economy has been affected by the jobs and activity associated with the pipeline construction.
“We have hundreds of local construction workers eager to work on this important project and hope all issues are resolved as soon as possible,” stated Steve White, director of the West Virginia Affiliated Construction Trades.
“We already have a project agreement in place, that means good paying jobs with benefits. The payroll will make a huge impact on our local economy.”
The developer says completion of the project would allow natural gas to be transported to markets where it is needed for energy, including Hampton Roads, Virginia, and eastern North Carolina.
“The region urgently needs new infrastructure to support the U.S. military, manufacturing, home heating and cleaner electricity as we move away from coal,” said Ruby, the Dominion spokesman. “We remain committed to this project and are confident it will be completed.”