The U.S. Supreme Court has reversed a lower court ruling that held up construction on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would cross hundreds of miles of West Virginia mountains to transport natural gas to East Coast markets.
More permitting issues, however, remain unresolved for the 600-mile pipeline project.
In the 7-2 decision, justices ruled the U.S. Forest Service has the authority to grant the pipeline right of way under the Appalachian Trail in the George Washington National Forest.
The pipeline project has been under scrutiny because of how its many miles would affect sensitive areas of forest and river, but it also is seen as an economic driver because of its construction jobs and its capacity for transporting gas to market.
“The Supreme Court has followed congressional intent in finding that the National Trail System, of which I am a strong advocate, is not to be a dragnet preventing construction of energy, electric, and transportation infrastructure around the country,” stated U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.
“West Virginia is energy rich, and we should make it easier to use energy resources produced right here at home to meet demand across the country.”
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey was part of an 18-state coalition that contended the federal appeals court’s ruling was incorrect.
“The Supreme Court’s opinion overturns a devastating decision and will go a long way to building a stronger economy and tax base nationwide, especially in north central West Virginia,” Morrisey stated today.
When West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice was asked about the Supreme Court ruling during a briefing today, he clapped.
“There’ll be jobs and jobs and jobs and everything,” Justice said.
The governor then clapped again and said, “Good job Supreme Court.”
Atlantic Coast Pipeline project’s path starts in Harrison County and goes through Lewis, Upshur, Randolph and Pocahontas counties before extending through Virginia and into southeastern North Carolina.
The $5.1 billion pipeline project is a collaboration between Dominion and Duke Energy.
“Today’s decision is an affirmation for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and communities across our region that are depending on it for jobs, economic growth and clean energy. We look forward to resolving the remaining project permits,” stated Ann Nallo, a spokeswoman for Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
The National Parks Conservation Association said that pipelines do not belong in parks, but acknowledged that the Supreme Court ruling will make it easier.
“While the pipeline still requires a number of other permits to move forward, which are themselves being challenged in court, we are disappointed by the Court’s decision,” stated Theresa Pierno, president and chief executive for the National Parks Conservation Association
“It fails to honor the commitment made to the American public to protect special places by designating them as units of the National Park System.”
In May, 2018, a three-judge panel from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond announced a ruling that invalidated a key federal review.
The appeals court concluded the U.S. Forest Service lacked authority to grant approval for Dominion and Duke Energy’s pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail on federal land.
The Fourth Circuit also vacated the Forest Service permit on other grounds not addressed by today’s decision, and the pipeline still lacks that permit in addition to several other approvals required for construction.
“This decision today isn’t the green light for the entire project,” said Angie Rosser, executive director of the of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition.
Rosser has emphasized that a project so big and impactful should be undertaken with great care.
“I hope that’s a lesson to pipeline companies everywhere that it pays to be thorough and cautious and take extra steps to make sure 1) the projects are necessary and 2) that they’re selecting the best routes,” she said.
The West Virginia Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation praised the Supreme Court’s decision, saying it helps assure construction jobs for union members.
“Local construction workers and their families are breathing a huge sigh of relief knowing they have a great job with benefits building the ACP,” said Steve White, director of the Affiliated Construction Trades in West Virginia.
“In these uncertain times, with construction unemployment at very high levels, our folks are ready to go to work.”
The West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association also praised the ruling.
“The SCOTUS decision regarding the Atlantic Coast Pipeline reaffirms what we’ve known – that our industry can support jobs and economic growth while protecting the environment,” stated Tom Westfall, president of the association’s board of directors.
“These communities are our communities. We want them to be safe and clean for all our families, and we’ve demonstrated that commitment time and time again.”