Story at a glance

  • The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline development.
  • The pipeline would cut through the protected Appalachian Trail.

The U.S. Supreme Court weighed in Monday on the development of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which has become a battleground issue for natural gas pipeline proponents and environmental groups.

The pipeline would cross the Appalachian Trail where it intersects with the George Washington National Forest, and funnel natural gas through a 605-mile long and 700-feet deep pipe. 

According to AP, the Supreme Court heard arguments Monday about a vital permit that developers Dominion Energy and Duke Energy will need to begin development. This involves overturning a lower court decision that ruled against a permit for the pipeline to cross under the Appalachian Trail.

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Backed by the Trump administration as well as the U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco, project developers for Dominion Energy argued that the U.S. Forest Service — which originally approved the pipeline’s construction permit and was eventually found to be in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act — has final jurisdiction over development, according to AP

This argument is opposed by environmental activist groups like the Sierra Club, who say that the Appalachian Trail is considered a part of the U.S. National Park System. This means federal law prohibits the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on federal Appalachian Trail lands. In which case, only Congress can approve such a crossing.

“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is encouraged by the Justices’ appreciation of the complexities of the National Trails System Act," Sandra Marra, president and CEO of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, said in a statement. "Regardless of how the Court decides this case, we hope that it will allow the Trail’s Cooperative Management System to remain intact and function as it has in the 50 years since the Act’s passage and the century-long existence of the Conservancy.”

Land in the National Park System is protected from industrial development like pipelines. The Fourth Circuit in this case ruled that the Appalachian Trail was in the Park System and, therefore, the federal lands within the Appalachian Trail were shielded from pipeline development. 

Published on Feb 24, 2020