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SCOTUS Hears Challenge to Atlantic Coast Gas Pipeline

Lawyers opposing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline crossing the Appalachian Trail say it will cut a path the width of a four-lane highway across the scenic route. (Wikimedia Commons)
Lawyers opposing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline crossing the Appalachian Trail say it will cut a path the width of a four-lane highway across the scenic route. (Wikimedia Commons)
February 25, 2020

RICHMOND, Va. -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday suggested it is unlikely to block the Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline from running under a section of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.

Conservative justices questioned the arguments Monday of a team of lawyers for environmental groups, including D.J. Gerken with the Southern Environmental Law Center. Gerken contended the National Park Service exceeded its authority in giving pipeline developers Dominion Power and Duke Energy permission to build on the federally protected trail.

"Dominion and Duke Energy insisted on plowing this pipeline through public land, through private lands, without any concern for the communities and the special places that were in the way," Gerken said.

The Trump administration is backing Duke and Dominion in the case. Their lawyers argued blocking the pipeline would make the trail a barrier keeping critical natural resources from reaching the eastern seaboard.

The $8 billion Atlantic Coast pipeline would transport natural gas 600 miles from West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina. Environmental groups say the pipeline path threatens the ecology of important national forests and wildlife habitats.

Gerken said the place where it would bisect the Appalachian Trail is a very specific protected spot in the George Washington National Forest. He noted construction there would mean drilling a 40-inch hole through a mile of rock, and said it's an extremely risky venture.

"It will require heavy equipment operating 24 hours a day, for 12 to 18 months, within earshot of the trail, and create a visual scar from some of the iconic viewsheds of the trail that will be there forever," he said. "This pipeline will be a linear clear cut, of the width of a four-lane highway, maintained forever."

A federal Environmental Impact Statement on the Atlantic Coast pipeline found the project could impair ecosystems, habitats, and local groundwater flow and quality.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service - VA