The U.S. Forest Service (NFS) has granted a Special Use Permit (SUP) for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) to cross 36+ miles of forest lands in the Monongahela and George Washington National Forests. The permit was signed on January 23 and announced last week, but the NFS had indicated its approval of the route on NFS lands in Pocahontas County, West Virginia and Highland, Bath and Augusta Counties, Virginia when it announced its Record of Decision on November 17.
A coalition of seven ABRA member organizations filed suit on February 5 in the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Fourth District (Richmond) challenging the granting of the permit. In its press release announcing the legal action, the coalition stated:
The Forest Service repeatedly requested additional information from developers yet moved ahead and approved this risky project with its questions unanswered. The pipeline is slated to cut through miles of steep, rugged mountainous regions of national forest land in West Virginia and Virginia. Much of this land provides habitat for rare and endangered species and is land that is regularly used by hikers and campers.
“The terrain which developers propose to cross with this pipeline is completely inappropriate for this kind of project,” said Sierra Club Attorney Nathan Matthews. “This fracked gas pipeline would cause permanent damage to the public lands that are so important to West Virginia’s and Virginia’s natural beauty. It is reckless to threaten the pristine land and tourism economy of those states with a dirty, dangerous project that they don’t even need.”
Pipeline developers have yet to receive all the permits needed for this project, including a water certification from Virginia meant to ensure protection of sensitive waterways. The Forest Service should not allow any work to move forward on national forest lands until this project is fully permitted.
The lawsuit was filed by attorneys with the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Sierra Club on behalf of the Cowpasture River Preservation Association, Highlanders For Responsible Development, Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, Shenandoah Valley Network, Sierra Club, Virginia Wilderness Committee, and Wild Virginia.
A copy of the SUP, with numerous provisions that detail the manner in which the ACP can be constructed on NFS lands, can be found on pages 73-94 of the coalition lawsuit.