The US Supreme Court, in US Forest Service v Cowpasture River Preservation Association, ruled the Forest Service had the power to grant a right-of-way for a pipeline to go under the Appalachian Trail.
Portion of Pipeline Would Be under the Appalachian Trail
The Forest Service gave Atlantic Coast Pipeline a permit for approximately 200 yards of its proposed 604-mile natural gas pipeline to be constructed 600 feet below the Appalachian Trail within the George Washington National Forest. Cowpasture River Preservation Association (“CRPA”) filed a Petition for Review in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing the Mineral Leasing Act (the “Act”) did not allow the Forest Service to issue the permit. CRPA argued, and the 4th Circuit agreed, the Act did not allow such grants on lands that are part of the National Park System, which included the Appalachian Trail.
Appalachian Trail Not “Lands” of the National Park System
The Act, while generally allowing the Forest Service to issue permits for pipelines on federal land, does not allow the Forest Service to issue these permits on “lands” of the National Park System. Federal law says “lands” administered by the National Park Service become part of the National Park System. Since 1969, the National Park System has administered the Appalachian Trail. The 4th Circuit concluded the Forest Service could not grant the permit.
The Supreme Court disagreed, determining the delegation to the National Park System for administering the Appalachian Trail did not constitute transferring “lands” to the National Park System. Rather, the delegation gave the National Parks System an easement for administering the Appalachian Trail, but granting an easement is not transferring “lands” under federal law. Thus, the Forest Service retained the power to issue a permit for a pipeline under the Appalachian Trail.
Dissent Says Majority Defies Common Sense
In dissent, two justices argued it defied common sense and ignored the plain language of the Act to say the Appalachian Trail did not constitute “lands” administered by the National Park System.
To see the majority and dissenting opinions https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/18-1584_igdj.pdf