Can the Appalachian Trail Block a Natural Gas Pipeline?

by Noah M Sachs | August 14, 2019

This commentary is excerpted from The American Prospect.

Hiking south on the Appalachian Trail from Reeds Gap in Virginia, my teenage daughter and I come to a clearing. We’re at the Three Ridges Overlook, taking in the view of the Rockfish River Valley undulating to the east. Piney Mountain, blanketed in a green canopy of oaks and poplars, stares back at us from across the divide. This tranquil section of the iconic trail is the subject of a four-year legal battle that landed in June at the Supreme Court. It’s the spot where Dominion Energy wants to route the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), a $7.5 billion, 600-mile, 42-inch-diameter pipe that will carry fracked natural gas from the depths of the Marcellus Shale in West Virginia. The pipeline would run up and over several mountain ranges to the Virginia coast and to eastern North Carolina.

The stakes are high. The lawsuit over this section of the Appalachian Trail could determine the fate of some of the largest natural gas deposits in North America. In a landmark decision last December, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond axed the project—for now. That court found that the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine is part of the National Park System, blocking federal agencies from authorizing a pipeline crossing. The astonishing decision upended the U.S. natural gas industry and also jeopardizes other pipeline projects with proposed routes across the trail.

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The Flight of the Bumblebee

by Daniel Farber | July 30, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Last Friday, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals halted efforts to build a natural gas pipeline because the Trump administration had done such a lousy job of showing its compliance with the Endangered Species Act. This was one of the administration's many losses in court. The case involved a perfect example of "arbitrary and capricious" decision making, to use the legal terminology. In simpler terms, the government's explanation for its decision was as full of ...

Beyond Carbon Pricing: Envisioning a Green Transition

by Alice Kaswan | July 16, 2019
High hopes that putting a price on carbon emissions would provide the most effective and politically expedient climate change policy keep getting dashed. In June, Oregon's Republican senators fled the state and hid rather than enact a carbon cap-and-trade program. Washington State citizen initiatives to pass a carbon tax have failed – twice. Even in progressive California, efforts to include a cap-and-trade program in the state's initial climate legislation failed; cap-and-trade came later, administratively rather than legislatively, and as part ...

Replacing the CPP's Visionary Energy Planning with the ACE's Technical Tinkering

by Alice Kaswan | June 28, 2019
The Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, the Trump administration's recently released substitute for his predecessor's Clean Power Plan (CPP), has been widely criticized as an ineffectual mechanism for addressing power plants' greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. More broadly, the rule substitutes a technocratic, plant-by-plant approach for the more comprehensive and participatory state planning required by the now-repealed CPP. The ACE identifies a range of potential heat-rate improvements (usually efficiency improvements) at coal-fired power plants and then lets the states determine which ...

The 'Advancing Coal Energy' Rule? EPA's Misguided Approach to Carbon Emissions from the Dirtiest Power Plants

by Hannah Wiseman | June 26, 2019
The EPA released its finalized rule for carbon emissions from existing power plants last week. The agency calls the rule the "Affordable Clean Energy" (ACE) rule, but it would be better named the "Advancing Coal Energy" rule given its explicit aim to keep old, dirty coal-fired power plants running. A bit of background first for those who aren't familiar with the rule. The United States has made a great deal of progress cleaning up its power plants so they emit ...

Achieving an 80 Percent Emissions Cut by 2050

by Daniel Farber | May 22, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. To do its part in keeping climate change to tolerable levels, the United States needs to cut its carbon emissions at least 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. That’s not just a matter of decarbonizing the electricity sector; it means changes in everything from aviation to steel manufacture, and reducing not only CO2 but also other pollutants like HFCs and black carbon. In a new book, Michael Gerrard and John Dernbach have assembled a team of authors to ...

Good News from the States: April 2019 Round-up

by Daniel Farber | April 30, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Every day seems to bring more news of the Trump administration's dogged efforts to reduce environmental protections and accelerate climate change with increased carbon emissions. But, as has been true since Trump took office, the picture at the state level is much different. State governments across the country have accelerated their efforts to decarbonize while efforts to save the coal industry have foundered. Here are some of the latest developments. Earlier this month, Maryland's legislature ...

Twin Peaks: The Fossil Fuel Edition -- Part II

by Joseph Tomain | April 22, 2019
Fossil fuels are reaching their consumption peak. By way of example, the United States has a surfeit of coal, but coal use is on the decline as natural gas and renewable resources replace the dirty fuel for generating electricity. Similarly, oil and natural gas are on the same decreasing consumption trajectory as recent data and modeling suggest. Consider the following market facts that directly impact coal and reveal its consumption peak: In Europe, fossil fuels peaked when renewables reached 3 ...

Twin Peaks: The Fossil Fuel Edition -- Part I

by Joseph Tomain | April 22, 2019
In 1956, Texas oil geologist M. King Hubbert predicted that U.S. oil production would peak no later than 1970. Lo and behold, in 1970, oil production topped out at just over 9.6 million barrels a day (mbd) and began its decline. The predicted peak had been reached. Regarding the world oil supply – no worries. There were oceans of oil in Middle East deserts, particularly in Saudi Arabia. Additionally, new finds in the North Sea, as well as discoveries, largely ...

A Defeat on Offshore Drilling Extends the Trump Administration's Losing Streak in Court

by Alejandro Camacho | April 11, 2019
Originally published by The Conversation. The Trump administration's push to boost fossil fuel extraction has received a major setback. On March 29, Judge Sharon Gleason of the U.S. District Court for Alaska ruled invalid Trump's order lifting a ban on oil and gas drilling in much of the the Arctic Ocean and along parts of the North Atlantic coast. Gleason held that the relevant law – the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act – authorizes presidents to withdraw offshore lands ...

Oversight, Executive Orders, and the Rule of Law

by David Driesen | March 14, 2019
This post is based on a recent article published in the University of Missouri—Kansas City Law Review. Congressional oversight and the public's impeachment discussion tend to focus on deep dark secrets: Did President Trump conspire with the Russians? Did he cheat on his taxes? Did he commit other crimes before becoming president? The House Committee on Oversight and Reform (or the Judiciary Committee), however, should also focus on a more fundamental and less hidden problem: Trump has systematically sought to ...

New on 'Connect the Dots': The Frontline Communities Fighting Back Against Polluting Pipelines

by James Goodwin | February 21, 2019
For affected indigenous communities in the United States and Canada, new oil and gas pipelines snaking across their lands represent a new kind of attack. Dirty, polluting, dangerous, and built without the communities' consent, these pipelines are the inevitable outcome of North America's hydraulic fracturing and tar sands oil "revolutions" that have played out in recent decades. These indigenous frontline communities must bear the disproportionate costs brought about by developed nations' continued addiction to fossil fuels, all without seeing most ...

Top Ten Regulatory Policy Stories to Look Out for in 2019 (IMHO)

by James Goodwin | December 31, 2018
As I documented in my most recent post, 2018 was an active year for regulatory policy, bringing several notable controversies, milestones, and developments. For those who follow this area, 2019 promises to be just as lively and momentous. Indeed, it appears that the dynamics that spurred much of the regulatory policy-related action in 2018 – namely, the high priority that the Trump administration has placed on corrupting our system of regulatory safeguards, and the accompanying political polarization around the issue ...

Federalism 'Collisions' in Energy Policy

by Alexandra Klass | November 20, 2018
Originally published in The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission. Like many areas of law, energy policy in the United States is both national and local. The boundary lines delineating federal and state authority are not always clear, leading to tension and disagreement between federal and state authorities. When tensions get too high, Congress can, and often has, stepped in to override state control in order to promote national interests. But when Congress faces partisan gridlock, an increasing number of disputes are ...

Message for State Climate Policy: Lead with a Vision, Not a Tax

by Alice Kaswan | November 19, 2018
Washington State has continued to try – unsuccessfully – to pass a carbon tax, with the latest effort, Initiative 1631, losing on November 6. The state's effort to control carbon is laudable, but Washington and other states contemplating how to fill the growing federal climate policy void should consider leading with a vision for a clean energy transition rather than a politically challenging "price." An overarching vision for a low-carbon future and a public decision-making process for achieving that future ...

Federal Court Deals Major Blow to Keystone XL Pipeline

by Victor Flatt | November 12, 2018
Late last week, a federal district court in Montana blocked construction on the Keystone XL pipeline. The decision in Indigenous Environmental Network, et al. v. U.S. Department of State is a significant victory for the environment and a major blow to the ultimate completion of the controversial pipeline. The case centered on the Trump administration’s 2017 decision to reverse the State Department’s initial rejection of the pipeline project, issued in 2015. The court noted that the environmental impact statement prepared ...

Argument Analysis: Justices Express Skepticism over Using Legislative Motive in Pre-emption Analysis

by Emily Hammond | November 06, 2018
This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US). The Supreme Court heard oral argument yesterday morning in Virginia Uranium Inc. v. Warren, which concerns the largest uranium deposit in the United States, located in south-central Virginia. The petitioners are owners of the deposit who wish to mine uranium, and they are challenging a 1983 statute by which the Virginia General Assembly imposed a moratorium on uranium mining. Although all ...

Argument Preview: Justices May Consider Role of Legislative Motive in Pre-emption Analysis

by Emily Hammond | October 30, 2018
This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US). Click here to read Professor Hammond's follow-up analysis of the oral arguments in this case. On November 5, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Virginia Uranium, Inc. v. Warren, which could test the extent to which a court will explore a state legislature’s motives when evaluating whether a state statute is pre-empted by federal law. The facts concern the ...

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