Yet Another Court Has Ruled Against an Appalachian Trail Pipeline

Dominion Energy suffers another setback in its quest to run a natural gas pipeline under the AT
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An emerging trend in the outdoors seems to be to bore a hole under the Appalachian Trail in order to pipe 20th-century energy sources to populated areas.

One, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, is heading to the Supreme Court next month for arguments about whether Dominion Energy, the natural gas pipeline’s would-be developer, is allowed to tunnel under the Green Tunnel without Congressional approval. And while we wait for that, let’s make a sport of watching lower-court judges beat up on Dominion.

First, some backstory: The Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been on hold since December 2018 waiting on various approvals and parrying claims that the work it did for previous approvals was totally shoddy.

On Tuesday, federal judges from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rescinded a permit Dominion had previously won to build a compressor station, after advocacy groups complained that the compressor station would unfairly target a black community as part of a failure to adequately assess the site’s suitability.

The federal judges took Virginia’s Air Pollution Control Board, the permitting agency, to task for “failure to consider the disproportionate impact on those closest to the Compressor Station result[ing] in flawed analysis,” wrote Judge Stephanie Thacker.

This is the latest in a string of setbacks for Dominion Energy’s pipeline, but their racking up of lower-court losses doesn’t necessarily mean the Supreme Court won't swing their way. (Arguments are set for February, and a ruling is expected in June.)

But one thing is clear: Large energy companies are having trouble forcing their will on communities and land managers with the same ease they have enjoyed in the past. When it comes to the Appalachian Trail and the 50-foot-wide permanent clear cut the pipeline would require across its corridor, there could scarcely be a better time for a change.