Outdoor Updates: Supreme Court to Hear Cowpasture Case

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Supreme Court agrees to hear Cowpasture case on how energy infrastructure is sited across the Appalachian Trail 

On October 4, 2019, the Supreme Court decided to hear the appeal from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ on the Cowpasture River Reservation Association, et al. v. United States Forest Service case. The case addresses whether the U.S. Forest Service has authority to issue a permit under the Mineral Leasing Act for a natural gas pipeline that would run under the Appalachian Trail.

On December 13, 2018, the Fourth Circuit decided that the U.S. Forest Service did not have the authority to issue permits for a natural gas pipeline that would cross a National Park Service unit—in this case the Appalachian Trail. As stated on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s website, the decision was made because, according to the National Trail System Act, the Appalachian Trail is administered as a unit of the National Park System and only the National Park Service may issue such a permit. Furthermore, there must be a specific Act of Congress that grants the National Park Service authority to issue such a permit. The ruling is a major barrier to the construction of both the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

On June 25, 2019, Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC filed a petition for a writ of certiorari from the United States Supreme Court to review the Cowpasture case. A writ of certiorari is the legal authority the Court grants to allow a case to be tried before it. It is quite rare for the Supreme Court to issue a writ of certiorari, usually only doing so when the case is of critical national importance, legal novelty, or to resolve a disagreement between two or more of the federal Circuit Courts.

As the appeal moves through the courts the Appalachian Trail Conservancy will monitor it closely. To keep up-to-date on developments to the case, follow the Appalachian Trail Conservancy on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter

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