Federal Appeals Court Strikes Against Mountain Valley Pipeline

In a breakthrough for environmentalists on Friday, a federal appeals court struck down two major decisions that would have allowed a natural gas pipeline to slice through Jefferson National Forest and under the Appalachian Trail.

The project would route a 300-mile natural gas pipeline, currently under construction, through Jefferson National Forest near the Virginia-West Virginia border. The woodlands that would be impacted are in Giles and Montgomery counties in Virginia and Monroe County in West Virginia. The pipeline’s route through the national forest will also take it under the Appalachian Trail atop Peters Mountain.

“American citizens understandably place their trust in the Forest Service to protect and preserve this country’s forests, and they deserve more than silent acquiescence to a pipeline company’s justification for upending large swaths of national forest lands,” Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote in the opinion issued by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The court sided with the Sierra Club and other conservation groups that challenged approvals by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management for a 3.6-mile segment of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Although the court’s decision was condensed to a small section of the 303-mile pipeline, opponents said the decision could affect the entire pipeline in Virginia.

Earlier in the week, a partner in the corporate venture said the operation of the pipeline has been pushed back to early 2019, noting the 4th Circuit’s earlier stay of the permit allowing stream crossings in West Virginia. In its Friday decision, the court said it was sending two decisions back for further review. The first was the Forest Service’s amendment of the Jefferson National Forest Land Resource Management Plan to accommodate the pipeline. The second was a right-of-way through the forest granted by the Bureau of Land Management. It  is unclear on how long the reconsideration might take.

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