The decision of the U.S. Forest Service to permit the Mountain Valley Pipeline to cross the Jefferson National Forest was vacated July 27 by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. The challenge to that decision had been brought by Sierra Club, Wild Virginia, Appalachian Voices and other groups. In its decision, the Court stated:
After careful review, we conclude that aspects of the Forest Service’s decision fail to comply with NEPA and the NFMA. As more fully explained below, we grant the petition challenging the Forest Service’s decision and vacate that decision. We also conclude that the BLM failed to acknowledge its obligations under the MLA, and therefore, we also grant the petition challenging the BLM decision and vacate that decision. We remand to the respective agencies for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
In analyzing the opinion, a copy of which is available here, Wild Virginia said it convinced the Court on its primary claims:
- The Forest Service was arbitrary in concluding that sedimentation and erosion impacts of the pipeline could be mitigated to insignificance.
- The Forest Service violated the 2012 Forest Planning Rule, by arbitrarily concluding that amendments to the forest plan were not “directly related” to particular provisions of that rule. Specifically, the Forest Service ignored the “purpose” of the amendments, which was squarely directly related to the rule.
- BLM violated the Mineral Leasing Act by failing to demonstrate that alternative routes that would increase co-location with existing rights-of-way were impractical.