Supreme Court Removes One More Hurdle for Critical East Coast Natural Gas Pipeline

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Yesterday, in a 7-2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court all but removed the last hurdle for the construction of the much-needed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).  The $8 billion 600-mile pipeline would bolster the supply of affordable and reliable natural gas by transporting it from West Virginia to sites in Virginia and North Carolina.   ACP is jointly owned by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy Inc. and truly epitomizes the infrastructure we need to ensure consumers’ access to affordable and reliable energy.

The crux of the argument facing the Supreme Court was whether the U.S. Forest Service had the sole authority to issue the special use permit allowing the pipeline construction.  The pipeline passes through 16 miles of the George Washington National Forest and runs 600 feet underneath a portion of the Appalachian National Trail.  The trail itself passes through the Forest and is administered by the National Park System as a right-of-way.

Opponents of the line argued that the Forest Service did not have the authority to issue a permit under the Trail managed by the National Park Service.  However, the Supreme Court ruled that existing Federal law clearly states that land acquired for the National Forest System “shall be permanently reserved, held and administered as national forest lands” and the law establishing the Appalachian Trail – the Trails Act – did not “transfer [to the National Park Service]…any management responsibilities established under any other law for federally administered lands which are components of the National Trails System.”

Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision on ACP is a win for energy infrastructure. It’s another chapter in the book we’ve been writing over the last several years discussing the crucial need for new and updated energy infrastructure and the regulatory hurdles confronting this need.

In an op-ed for the Westchester Business Journal in April 2019, we noted that  “while America’s natural gas boom is one of the great success stories of the past 30 years, infrastructure isn’t keeping pace.”  We were perplexed with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision to block much-needed natural gas pipeline infrastructure in the Empire State, the state with the fifth-largest consumption of natural gas.   We noted that “we can’t afford to play political games with energy infrastructure.”  And we highlighted that even the Environmental Defense Fund stated that stalling the construction of pipeline infrastructure “is not an effective climate policy.”  In the end, we concluded that when environmentalists and regulators agree on the need for additional pipeline capacity, it’s a win for our nation and our world’s climate.

On the heels of our calls to remove the “red-tape” delaying natural gas infrastructure in New York, we appeared in the Detroit News calling on Michigan Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, and Attorney General Dana Nessel to approve the modernization of the 67-year old Line 5 pipeline.

Line 5 is an 1100 mile pipeline that brings 540,000 barrels of light crude oil and natural gas liquids into the energy-isolated state from Canada.  Although Line 5’s owner – Enbridge – is picking up the $500 million tab to modernize the pipeline,  Nessel and Governor Whitmer have waged a two-year battle to block a portion of the line running under the Straits of Mackinac between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan.  Fortunately for Michiganders needing access to affordable and reliable energy, last week the Michigan Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the law allowing for the necessary infrastructure to be built to house the updated Line 5 under the Straits.   The appeals court decision removes one more hurdle in the path of getting the modernized Line 5 completed by 2024.

Whether it’s the Supreme Court’s decision on the  Atlantic Coast Pipeline or Michigan’s Court of Appeals decision upholding Line 5,  we are slowly, but surely, clearing the regulatory and judicial hurdles on our path to ensuring that consumers have access to affordable and reliable energy.  Let’s hope that trend continues because it’s good for the environment, good for the economy and good for the consumer.