The Atlantic Coast Pipeline earned a victory Monday when the nation’s highest court reinstated a permit critical for the progress of the natural gas project.
The United States Supreme Court ruled 7-2 to overturn a decision of the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which threw out a permit that allows the ACP to cross a 600-foot section under the Appalachian Trail.
“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,” Ann Nallo, a spokesperson for the $8 billion, 600-mile ACP, said in a statement.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented in the case, which focused on ACP’s plan to cross a 600-foot section below the Appalachian Trail, near the border of Nelson County and Augusta County.
The pipeline will run from West Virginia to North Carolina, through Virginia and about 27 miles in Nelson.
Monday’s narrow ruling focused exclusively on whether the U.S. Forest Service had the authority to issue a permit to ACP to cross below the trail.
Attorneys for the Cowpasture River Preservation Association and environmental groups that had challenged the permit argued the Forest Service did not have power to issue the approval, saying the land in question was part of the National Park System.
However, the majority of the court Monday said the Forest Service did have such authority, drawing a distinction between the Appalachian Trail itself and the land under the trail, through which the pipeline will pass.
“We hold that the Department of the Interior’s decision to assign responsibility over the Appalachian Trail to the National Park Service did not transform the land over which the Trail passes into land within the National Park System,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the majority opinion.
In its statement Monday, the ACP drew attention to the more than 50 other pipelines — which were mentioned during arguments before the Supreme Court in February — that have crossed the trail “without disturbing its public use.”
“The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will be no different,” the company’s statement continued.
The 42-inch ACP will run hundreds of feet below the trail itself and be installed via a horizontal directional drilling process.
“There will be no construction on or near the Trail itself,” reads the ACP’s statement, which also says the pipeline will emerge more than half a mile from the Appalachian Trail on either side, “and the public will be able to continue enjoying the Trail as they always have.”
Friends of Nelson, a Nelson County-based environmental group dedicated to fighting the pipeline, said in a statement it is “disappointed” by the Supreme Court’s decision. But it remains optimistic the ACP will be stopped, citing several other legal challenges currently being considered in federal courts.
“We will continue to fight the Pipeline with every ounce of our energy to stop its destructive path through Nelson County and many other communities,” Doug Wellman, president of Friends of Nelson, said in a statement.
Nallo said ACP looks “forward to resolving the remaining permits” currently being challenged.
Reach Emily Brown at (434) 385-5529.
Emily Brown covers the Hillcats, ODAC and high school sports for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5529.