In a tremendous victory for our national parks and public lands, two of the nation’s largest utility companies, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, announced that they have canceled the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, which would have carried natural gas across the Appalachian Trail, as well as the Blue Ridge Parkway.
In January, the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks joined the National Parks Conservation Association, the Southern Environmental Law Center and park advocates Jon Jarvis, former director of the National Park Service, and Pam Underhill, former Superintendent of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, in filing a joint amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting conservation respondents in U.S. Forest Service, et al. v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association, et al.
In this brief, we argued that under the Mineral Leasing Act the U.S. Forest Service does not have the authority to grant a permit for the pipeline to cross underneath the Appalachian Trail on Forest Service lands because the Trail is a unit of the National Park System administered by the Park Service. In principle, under the Act only Congress can approve pipelines through National Park System units. In this case, however, the Court ruled that the Forest Service does have such authority on lands they manage, even though the Trail is technically administered by the NPS but rests on Forest Service lands.
However, in addition to crossing the Appalachian Trail, the pipeline would also need to cross underneath the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the most visited parks in the National Park System. A separate legal challenge of the NPS pipeline permit remains active in the federal court system and would appear to be more difficult for the energy companies to overcome than the Forest Service permit challenge as the permit could not be approved by the NPS unless the permit approval was consistent with park purposes.
Despite the recent legal victory for the energy companies on the legality of the Forest Service permit, both Duke Energy and Dominion Energy said that lawsuits, mainly from environmentalists aimed at blocking the project, had increased costs to as much as $8 billion from about $4.5 billion to $5 billion when it was first announced in 2014.
Park advocates, environmental groups, and partners can be credited with effective challenges to key federal permits necessary for the project to move forward and their persistence in addressing this issue. Our collective voices have made a difference in the cancellation of this project!