U.S. Supreme Court clears way for pipeline to cross Appalachian Trail
By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that the federal government has the authority to cross a $ 7.5 billion planned natural gas pipeline under the popular Appalachian Trail in rural Virginia.
The 7-2 verdict was a victory for Dominion Energy Inc and the government of President Donald Trump, both of whom appealed against a lower court ruling to build the 965km Atlantic Coast pipeline from West Virginia to West Virginia North Carolina was stopped.
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The decision by the conservative judiciary Clarence Thomas removes one of several obstacles to the project. Two liberal judges, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, disagreed.
"Today's decision is a confirmation of the Atlantic Coast pipeline and the communities in our region that depend on it for jobs, economic growth and clean energy. We look forward to clarifying the remaining project approvals," Dominion said in a statement .
Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the Southern Environmental Law Center had sued to stop the pipeline after the U.S. Forest Service gave the green light to the project, which was to run through the George Washington National Forest. Dominion Energy is leading a consortium of companies in the project, which includes Duke Energy Corp. belongs.
After a lengthy application process in which several federal authorities were involved, the forest service granted the consortium a right of way in 2018.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, found in 2018 that the Forest Service lacked the authority to grant a right of way for the pipeline that crosses the Appalachian Trail in the national forest, as the trail was monitored by the National Park Service.
In Monday's ruling, the Trump administration's Supreme Court agreed that the forest service should retain the authority to authorize rights of way.
The authority of the park service over the path "has not transformed the country over which the path leads into land within the national park system", wrote Thomas.
Kelly Martin, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, promised to contest the remaining approval applications.
"Nothing in today's decision changes the fact that the Fracked Gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline poses a dirty, dangerous threat to our health, climate, and communities, and nothing in the decision changes our intent to combat it." added Martin.
The proposed pipeline would be 180 meters below a section of the 3,500 km path that extends from Maine to Georgia.
The Supreme Court decision will also affect the planned 480 km Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would run from West Virginia to South Virginia and cross the path in the Jefferson National Forest. The pipeline is almost complete, but construction was stopped due to the decision in the case of the pipeline on the Atlantic coast before the crossing under the path was completed.
[A graphic of important cases before the Supreme Court can be found at https://tmsnrt.rs/2mZn6MJ]
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Will Dunham)
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