October 8, 2019

Dear CRPA Members,

Our association has recently been in the news due to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) legal case that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear. In the next few paragraphs, I’ll attempt to answer how we got here and what’s coming next.

  • What is US Forest Service versus Cowpasture River Preservation Association, et al? In January 2018, the US Forest Service (USFS) granted a Special Use Permit to the developers of the ACP to cross federal lands and tunnel under the Appalachian Trail. We joined six other conservation organizations to oppose this permit for several reasons, not the least of which is that USFS does not have the authority to grant such a permit. The US Fourth Circuit Court agreed with us and vacated the permit. Since the Fourth Circuit wouldn’t budge, the ACP team petitioned to have the case heard by the US Supreme Court. On October 4, the court agreed to hear the case.
  • Who is included in this case? Although CRPA is listed first, the other associations include Highlanders for Responsible Development (the parent organization for the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance), the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, the Shenandoah Valley Network, The Sierra Club, the Virginia Wilderness Committee and Wild Virginia.
  • Why is the case called US Forest Service versus CRPA? This is the court’s shorthand. We are first alphabetically.
  • What’s next? The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments from both sides next January and reach a judgment in June or July.
  • Can the ACP start construction in Virginia before this case goes to court next year? Ah. This point is debatable. According to the latest from ACP, they plan to resume construction (tree felling and more) late this year. We feel strongly and hope that until the decision on the Trail is rendered and all of the other permits are approved, no construction should be allowed.

We’re represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), which has led this case from the start. The USFS is supported by Dominion Energy, which has hired former Solicitor General Paul Clement to argue its side. The opposition claims that the Fourth Circuit has “effectively erected a 2,200-mile barrier severing the eastern seaboard from oil and gas sources west of the Appalachian Trail.” In truth, at least 56 pipelines already run under the Trail, although none of these have been permitted this way. All are on private land, state land or are grandfathered in. (If you want more information about this, please let me know.)

Expect to see this even more in the media in the coming months. After all, our current Solicitor General Noel Francisco is the one who petitioned the Court to take up the case, and his boss, Attorney General William Barr, is a former Dominion board member.

If you have questions about this, feel free to contact me.


Richard Brooks
President, CRPA