U.S. Forest Service’s (NFS) decision to permit the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) to cross the Jefferson National Forest was vacated on July 27 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in a strongly worded rebuke of the agency’s process in approving a permit for the project. In its opinion in a case brought by the Sierra Club, the Court stated:
The Forest Service may adopt FERC’s EIS only if it undertakes “an independent review of the [EIS]” and “concludes that its comments and suggestions have been satisfied.” It must also ensure that the EIS is “adequate” under NEPA regulations. Our responsibility is to “determine whether the [agency] has considered the relevant factors and articulated a rational connection between the facts found and the choice made.”
The agency’s decision is arbitrary and capricious if it “entirely failed to consider an important aspect of the problem” or “offered an explanation for its decision that runs counter to the evidence before the agency.”
Pursuant to NEPA, we conclude the Forest Service acted arbitrarily and capriciously in adopting the sedimentation analysis in the EIS. It did not “articulate a rational connection between the facts found and the choice made.”
The Court also granted a petition for review of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Rule of Decision to permit the MVP to cross BLM lands and vacated that decision. Both the NFS and BLM decisions were remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Court’s opinion. A copy of the 4th Circuit decision is available here.