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Court allows Trump administration to rethink permit for Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Highlights

After other 4th Circuit defeats, DOJ sought voluntary remand

Construction currently on hold amid litigation

Washington — A US appeals court will let the Trump administration pull back a contested permit authorizing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross under Blue Ridge Parkway, allowing the National Park Service to reconsider the authorization and consult with other agencies.

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Facing a second challenge to NPS authorization from environmental groups and other recent defeats for ACP permits before the same court, the administration January 16 sought a voluntary remand of the permit to the agency.

While the project schedule is in question amid the 4th Circuit setbacks, some analysts have suggested voluntary remands could shorten the timeline for getting sustainable positive decisions from the federal agencies for the 600-mile, 1.5 Bcf/d natural gas pipeline. The US Army Corps of Engineers on January 18 also asked the court to remand authorization governing water crossings for the pipeline in West Virginia.

Neither environmental groups nor the pipeline sponsors had objected to the voluntary remand of the NPS permit (Sierra Club v. Department of Interior, 18-2095).

"The court has approved the request, and we are confident that the NPS will promptly reconsider the facts and reissue the permit," said Karl Neddenien, a spokesman for lead project sponsor Dominion Energy, in an email.

Southern Environmental Law Center Senior Attorney DJ Gerken, by contrast, said his group hoped NPS would "look at Atlantic's boondoggle with fresh eyes and recognize that this unnecessary pipeline has no place in the most-visited part of the National Park System."

RECONSIDERING IMPACTS

In asking for the remand, the Department of Justice said NPS needed to rethink its findings about the impact of the right-of-way on the environmental and cultural resources of the scenic parkway. It also noted that the permit rested in part on an adjacent US Forest Service right-of-way, which has since been struck by the same court. Reconsideration will include discussion with other land management agencies about which agency might have authority to evaluate crossing of Forest Service land and parkway land, DOJ said.

The project is designed to move Appalachian gas to Mid-Atlantic markets. Most construction is currently on hold, and the 4th Circuit has previously stayed or struck permits by the Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service and Army Corps. Challenges to the certificate issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission are pending separately, in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

-- Maya Weber, maya.weber@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Richard Rubin, newsdesk@spglobal.com