State Officials Applaud U.S. Supreme Court Atlantic Coast Pipeline Decision
CHARLESTON — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that the decision of a lower court to halt the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was flawed, opening the door for the natural gas project to continue.
In a 7-2 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, the court reversed a decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that said the U.S. Forest Service did not have the authority to issue a right-of-way easement for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project to cross underneath a portion of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.
Speaking to reporters Monday, Gov. Jim Justice applauded the decision – literally – saying it was a good day for West Virginian jobs and the natural gas industry, which has taken a beating economically during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Good job, Supreme Court. That’s all there is too it,” Justice said, grinning from ear to ear. “Good things will happen for West Virginia in lots and lots of different places throughout our country and especially in Virginia and North Carolina. We’ll be able to increase gas production naturally and everything. There will be jobs and jobs and jobs.”
U.S. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., also praised the Supreme Court decision.
“The Supreme Court decision today is welcome news for American families, jobs, security, and the energy economy,” Capito said in a statement. “This project will allow for the expanded supplies of natural gas for residential and commercial heating and electricity generation, which will provide affordable energy for residents and businesses while also spurring economic development.”
“The Atlantic Coast Pipeline project has gone to extreme lengths to ensure the safety and integrity of the Appalachian Trail and the surrounding area,” Manchin said. “I am confident in their ability to maintain our great outdoor spaces while expanding our ability to increase energy production across the nation.”
The pipeline, a project of Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, would bring natural gas from Harrison County 600 miles through Virginia to North Carolina. The pipeline would also cross through Lewis, Upshur, Randolph, and Pocahontas counties. The project, started in 2014, has a price tag of $8 billion.
Environment groups including the Sierra Club, Cowpasture River Preservation, and the Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley argue the pipeline project would damage the 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail that runs from Maine to Georgia. The pipeline crossing is one-tenth of a mile across and would travel beneath the trail. The groups also raised concerns about soil erosion around the pipeline crossing and possible damage to local wildlife habitats.
“It’s been six years since this pipeline was proposed, we didn’t need it then and we certainly don’t need it now,” said Dick Brooks of Cowpasture River Preservation. “Today’s decision doesn’t change the fact that Dominion chose a risky route through protected federal lands, steep mountains, and vulnerable communities.”
State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey led an 18-state group last December in filing a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project. The group argued if the Fourth Circuit decision was upheld, it would turn the Appalachian Trail into a wall and prevent interstate energy development.
“The Supreme Court’s decision will help put back to work thousands of men and women,” Morrisey said in a statement Monday. “The Supreme Court’s opinion overturns a devastating decision and will go a long way to building a stronger economy and tax base nationwide, especially in north central West Virginia.”
According to Morrisey, the halting of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline put 1,500 people out of working making between $25-$45 per hour. Pipeline construction and the employment that comes with it has been credited with state budget surpluses the last two years according to research by West Virginia University. The WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research estimated construction on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline could resume in the next 12 months. Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, praised Monday’s decision.
“Today’s decision is a big win for economic development and the energy security of the United States,” Roberts said. “The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce applauds the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court and is looking forward to the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.”
Ann Nallo, a spokesperson for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, released the following statement:
“In its decision today, the Supreme Court upheld the longstanding precedent allowing infrastructure crossings of the Appalachian Trail,” Nallo said. “For decades, more than 50 other pipelines have safely crossed the Trail without disturbing its public use. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will be no different.
“Today’s decision is an affirmation for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and communities across our region that are depending on it for jobs, economic growth and clean energy,” Nallo continued. “We look forward to resolving the remaining project permits.”