|RICHMOND (January 22, 2020)—Attorney General Mark R. Herring today filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court defending Virginia’s natural resources from damage caused by shoddy and insufficient federal permitting processes. Attorney General Herring’s brief highlights a near complete failure of the U.S. Forest Service to meet its obligations under federal law and regulations, explaining that “for Virginia’s natural resources to be adequately protected, federal agencies charged with administering federal lands within its borders must fulfill their statutory obligations. The Forest Service did not do so here, to the detriment of Virginians and others who enjoy the natural treasures in the pipeline’s path.”
“Virginia and other states have to be able to rely on federal agencies to properly do their jobs when considering permits for this kind of major project because their approval has a huge impact on whether a project is actually built. That authority and influence means these agencies must conduct accurate assessments of whether a project is truly needed and ensure that the strongest possible environmental protections are adhered to,” said Attorney General Herring. “In this case, the U.S. Forest Service completely failed to protect Virginia’s natural resources when issuing its permit. I hope the Supreme Court will send a clear message that these federal agencies cannot cut corners or rubberstamp projects.”
Attorney General Herring has filed his Supreme Court amicus brief in the combined cases U.S. Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association and Atlantic Coast Pipeline v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association. His brief asks the Supreme Court to affirm a ruling from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that invalidated a permit for the project issued by the U.S. Forest Service.
In his brief, Attorney General Herring explains that “this case impacts Virginia more than any other State” because more than 50% of the pipeline is in Virginia and “the pipeline would run directly through several of Virginia’s most cherished places—the George Washington National Forest, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Appalachian Trail.”
In criticizing the federal permitting process, the brief states:
“Despite the undisputed (and indisputable) value of the natural resources in the pipeline’s path, the United States Forest Service failed to conduct the meticulous review of Atlantic’s permit application called for by the Service’s governing statutes and regulations. Instead, the permitting process was rushed and slipshod and driven by Atlantic’s arbitrary deadlines. Given the chaotic nature of the agency proceedings, it is unsurprising that the Fourth Circuit invalidated the permit on three separate grounds…”
The brief also raises serious questions about whether the project is needed to meet energy demand, citing numerous sources that indicate natural gas demand is actually decreasing, and that renewable energies are becoming more cost competitive. The brief also reminds the Court that “the ever-rising costs of building [the pipeline] will be passed on to consumers by the companies that have contracted with Atlantic to carry gas through the pipeline.”
The case is scheduled for argument in the U.S. Supreme Court on February 24, 2020.