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Key Pipeline Case May Get Supreme Court Appeal

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File photo by FERC inspectors
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After a federal court invalidated a key permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, lead partner Dominion Energy has said it intends to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. As WMRA’s Andrew Jenner reports, the deadline to file that appeal was recently extended to the end of June.

To get from Harrison County, West Virginia, to its proposed destinations in eastern Virginia and North Carolina, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would have to cross two national forests. In November 2017, the US Forest Service granted pipeline developers a permit to do just that. After a coalition of environmental groups sued, though, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals threw that permit out last December.

In the months since, Dominion Energy has said it will appeal that decision to the Supreme Court. An initial deadline for that appeal was in late May, but both parties on the losing end of the 4th Circuit’s decision – Dominion and the U.S. Forest Service –  asked for an extension. The Supreme Court agreed, setting a new appeal deadline of June 25th.

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Credit Southern Environmental Law Center
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Greg Buppert is a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

GREG BUPPERT: Procedural extensions of deadlines are common in court proceedings, and I don’t think there’s anything to read into the fact that the deadline was extended.

Greg Buppert is a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which argued the forest service case before the 4th Circuit. Though he wouldn’t speculate on whether the Supreme Court would take the case, Buppert noted that it hears less than one percent of the cases it’s presented with. And typically, they involve Constitutional issues or conflicting decisions of lower courts.

(The Southern Environmental Law Center underwrites programming on WMRA.)

BUPPERT: Neither of those issues are present here. So I think in general, getting the Supreme Court to take a case that doesn’t involve one of those two categories is more difficult.

In recent months, some industry analysts have speculated that Dominion may cancel the pipeline altogether if it can’t get the forest service permit restored by the Supreme Court. From Buppert’s perspective, that’s something Dominion should be considering regardless of what eventually happens with this case.

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Credit Dominion Energy
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One part of an existing Atlantic Coast Pipeline right-of-way in Virginia.

BUPPERT: The energy landscape is very different than it was in 2014, and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is barely under construction, and behind schedule, and it is an appropriate time to reassess whether this project should go forward at all.

Dominion did not respond to interview requests for this story.

Andrew Jenner is a freelance reporter based in Harrisonburg. After working as a journalist in the Shenandoah Valley for a decade, he spent three years living and reporting in Brazil, returning to Harrisonburg in the summer of 2018. Andrew has reported for TheAtlantic.com, The Washington Post, Deutsche Welle, Discover, Modern Farmer, and many others. He is a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University, has a MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Goucher College, and almost made it onto Jeopardy! a few years ago.