Atlantic Coast Pipeline Scores Big in U.S. Supreme Court Ruling

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in favor of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, allowing for construction of the pipeline to pass underneath a section of the Appalachian Trail – a move that was previously struck down in a lower court ruling.

The lower court originally ruled against the U.S. Forest Service’s special-use permit that authorized construction of the pipeline back in 2017. Their ruling was based on federal law that prohibits pipelines through lands deemed part of the National Park System. Because the Appalachian Trail is administered by the National Park Service, the lower court struck down the Forest Service’s approval.

In a 7-2 decision, however, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas countered that authority over the land through which the Trail passes is in fact sufficient to authorize pipeline construction through it. He explained, “The lands that the trail crosses are still federal lands, and the Forest Service may grant a pipeline right-of-way through them—just as it granted a right-of-way for the trail.”

This ruling eliminates one of many legal barriers the pipeline has faced since its introduction in 2014.

Environmentalists and renewable energy champions oppose the pipeline, claiming its construction would harm the area around the Appalachian Trail and increase emissions. Despite these claims, the construction plans and the extensive economic and environmental benefits of the pipeline suggest these arguments lack merit.

More than 50 existing pipelines already pass underneath the Trail with no significant impact to the surrounding environment. This fact alone makes it difficult to understand the backlash associated with this particular project.

On top of that, Dominion Energy, one of three companies behind the pipeline, released a statement reiterating that “the pipeline will be installed hundreds of feet below the surface and emerge more than a half-mile from each side of the Trail. There will be no construction activity on or near the Trail itself, and the public will be able to continue enjoying the Trail as they always have.”

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will provide much-needed natural gas from West Virginia to sites in Virginia and North Carolina. Natural gas is currently in short supply throughout the region. In fact, just 33.2% of Virginians have natural gas for heating, while the U.S. average is closer to 50%.

For environmentalists concerned primarily with CO2 emissions, opposing the project is an odd stance, given the wide-ranging benefits of natural gas. For home heating, natural gas cheaper and more efficient when compared to electric. Natural gas also emits significantly less CO2.

Additionally, the largest reduction in CO2 emissions in the United States has come from fuel switching in the electricity power sector from coal to natural gas, which has about half the emissions of CO2 overall.

The pipeline will also provide a multitude of jobs and economic activity throughout the region. It will cover an area of over 600 miles and will provide over 8,000 jobs in preparation, construction and maintenance of the pipeline that will be in place for years to come.

A few hurdles remain ahead for the project. The lower court had originally prohibited construction in four areas in total, and The Appalachian Trail location was the only one appealed to the Supreme Court. They also have more permits to secure from other agencies before the project can break ground.

In sum, while there certainly remains a long way to go for the pipeline, this Supreme Court victory is a huge step in the right direction.

In Depth: Energy

It is difficult – and perhaps even impossible – to overstate the relationship between readily available access to safe, affordable and reliable energy and individual prosperity and economic wellbeing. This is because energy is an input to virtually everything we produce, consume and enjoy in society. Think for a minute…

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