Virginia judges cite Dr. Suess’ ‘The Lorax’ in decision to strike down natural gas pipeline
According to NPR, a three-judge panel at the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia ruled that the U.S. Forest Service has “abdicated its responsibility to preserve national forest resources” by allowing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to build through parts of the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests and a right of way across the Appalachian Trail.
In their unanimous opinion, the judges cited the Forest Service’s convenient granting of permission just in time to meet the company’s deadline, and a passage from Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax: “We trust the United States Forest Service to ‘speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.'”
The court came to the conclusion that the Forest Service violated both the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, and did not have the authority to give the Atlantic Coast Pipeline access to build the pipeline across the right of way.
The pipeline would have stretched across parts of three states, starting in West Virginia, and crossing Virginia and North Carolina. In their judgement against the pipeline, the judges detail the environmental impact of such a large pipeline: “Construction would involve clearing trees and other vegetation from a 125-foot right of way (reduced to 75 feet in wetlands) through the national forests, digging a trench to bury the pipeline, and blasting and flattening ridgelines in mountainous terrains. Following construction, the project requires maintaining a 50-foot right of way (reduced to 30 feet in wetlands) through the [two national forests] for the life of the pipeline.”
One of the groups responsible for filing the lawsuit, the Southern Poverty Law Center, challenged the Forest Service’s ability to issue the permits, citing apparent political motivations. Patrick Hunter, one of their lawyers, told NPR, “for years the Forest Service was asking tough questions about this project and requesting additional information and it turned on a dime when the Trump administration came into power. Federal agencies can change their minds, but they have to [have] good reasons for doing it and they didn’t have a good reason to change their mind and turn on a dime like this and I think that came through in this decision-making.”
Dominion Energy, the company that is the pipeline’s lead developer said that they would appeal the decision. Dominion spokesperson Aaron Ruby told NPR, “If allowed to stand, this decision will severely harm consumers and do great damage to our economy and energy security. Public utilities are depending on this infrastructure to meet the basic energy needs of millions of people and businesses in our region.”
Ruby also noted that 56 other pipelines also cross the Appalachian Trail. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “The panel said the Forest Service’s ‘insufficient analysis of landslide risks’ also became clear when the Columbia Gas Transmission Pipeline, cited by FERC as an example of an existing pipeline built across sensitive terrain in the Appalachian Mountains, ruptured and exploded in early July after a landslide in West Virginia.”