By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Ruling against environmentalists, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday decided that the federal government has the authority to allow a proposed $7.5 billion natural gas pipeline to cross under the popular Appalachian Trail in rural Virginia.
The 7-2 ruling was a victory for Dominion Energy Inc and President Donald Trump’s administration, both of which appealed a lower court ruling that halted construction of the 600-mile (965-km) Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would run from West Virginia to North Carolina.
The decision, written by conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, removes one of several obstacles facing the project. Two liberal justices, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, dissented.
Environmental groups including the Sierra Club and Southern Environmental Law Center had sued to stop the pipeline after the U.S. Forest Service gave the green light for the project to run through the George Washington National Forest. Dominion Energy leads a consortium of companies in the project that also includes Duke Energy Corp.
After a protracted application process involving multiple federal agencies, the Forest Service granted the consortium a right of way under the trail in 2018.
But the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found in 2018 that the Forest Service lacked the authority to grant a right of way for the pipeline where it crosses the Appalachian Trail in the national forest land.
The Supreme Court reversed that decision.
The proposed pipeline would be 600 feet (180 meters) below a section of the 2,200-mile (3,500 km) trail, which stretches from Maine to Georgia.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)