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SCOTUS gives energy companies a big win in development case

On Behalf of | Oct 30, 2020 | Land Use

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) recently agreed to hear an important case questioning environmental law. The case, although important, was likely overshadowed by SCOTUS’s other holdings. It was a busy session, and the same week the court released this holding it also released major holdings involving immigration in healthcare law. However, in addition to an impact on this specific project the case will have an impact on projects throughout the country.

The case involves the Atlantic Coast pipeline project. The issue presented to the court was whether or not the United States Forest Department or another federal agency had the authority to grant a permit for the pipeline and, if it did, if the agency acted lawfully when it granted the permit.

Dissent among the lower courts

Lower courts sided with environmental advocates who argued the National Park System should have the ability to grant the permit. They stated the Appalachian Trial system is a branch of the National Parks. As a result, this branch of the federal government should have authority over the permitting process. These groups fought for the National Park Service to have the authority in this matter because the Park Service is forbidden by federal law to grant energy permits through National Parks. As a result, a ruling stating the National Parks get to make this choice would essentially kill the project.

The energy companies behind the pipeline project appealed, taking the issue to the SCOTUS. Ultimately, SCOTUS ruled in favor of the energy companies. Justice Clarence Thomas stated that the Forest Service had granted a right-of-way to the Park Service to maintain the Appalachian Trial System. As a result, the Forest Service still owned the land and retains the authority to make permitting decisions.