On June 15th, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in a 7-2 decision that the Forest Service could legally grant a permit that would allow the construction of a natural gas pipeline. This pipeline, named the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, was proposed in 2014, and blueprints illustrate that it will run through West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina, passing under the Appalachian Trail at one point. This decision shocked many, seeing as how Justices Sotomayor and Kagan were the only to dissent. To many people, this may appear as simply a matter concerning easier access to gas, but in reality, it is an environmental one that poses problems. Although there appears to be a need for the pipeline, its construction poses a great risk for the land it runs over and contradicts efforts to move towards renewable resources, making it a problematic project.

How Necessary Is This Pipeline?

According to the Virginia Mercury, some communities in Virginia and North Carolina report having shortages of natural gas. This, in turn, makes it difficult to “support military bases, manufacturing, and home heating.” While this would definitely demonstrate need for the pipeline, those in charge of presenting this need did not necessarily use people from these communities. To demonstrate need for a project, companies use precedent agreements, which are basically contracts where a customer agrees to buy a certain amount of a good before the completion of the project. Instead of making contracts with those in affected communities, contracts were made with investors in the project. How can a financial investor truly represent a need for a good produced from a project? The same source says that these particular investors will also receive a 15% return on their investments, so how does one know whether their demonstrated demand is for the actual project or for the money they will receive upon its completion? Since investors were used to demonstrate demand, it cannot be said that a definite need for the project exists.

National Park Land Is At Risk

When the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the pipeline in 2017, it created a potential harm brief for the project. This brief laid out the possible negative effects that could accompany the construction of the pipeline on the surrounding land. The Virginia Mercury reports that the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) is currently pushing for the FERC to reevaluate potential harm for the pipeline and to create another brief since three years have already passed. It might not seem like a long time, but a landscape can experience drastic changes in that time span, perhaps resulting in even greater danger to the area from the project. The SELC believes that in order for the project to progress, this must occur to prevent serious danger.

Interestingly enough, a local organization in the area decided to research how this project could potentially affect the land. This organization, the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA), released a paper detailing the continual nature of landslides in the Appalachian region. Sediment runoff and debris flow pose serious dangers to that area, and construction of any kind will only make things worse. If the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was to be constructed in this area, the likelihood of a landslide occurring would increase tremendously, putting neighboring communities at an increased risk. To ABRA, this pipeline is a terrible idea since not only will it harm National Park land, but it will harm those living in at-risk areas. This is no doubt problematic, which can only mean that the project can be described using the same adjective.

Environmentalists Are Fighting For Renewable Resource Use

As aforementioned, this pipeline was proposed in 2014, and its delay can be attributed to the work of grassroots activists. Groups, like the ABRA, view this project as a complete environmental threat and fight hard to ensure that it will not see completion. They acknowledge the potential harm of landslides, and also argue that water quality and wildlife could experience adverse effects. Their main tactic lies in focusing on the several permits needed for the construction of the pipeline and utilizing extremely time-consuming litigation to oppose them. This strategy has worked thus far, and now, groups have even greater motives to continue.

Earlier this year, the state of Virginia passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act. This piece of legislation calls for a 100% transition to clean energy by 2050 with the elimination of carbon emissions. Environmentalists can now use this as greater incentive to oppose the pipeline. Why should an $8 billion pipeline be constructed through Virginia when the state has called for a shift towards clean energy? It does not make any sense. If anything, its construction would be a regression to unrenewable resources. Instead, this insane amount of funding should be allocated towards investing in clean energy. The problems seem to write themselves as the clock ticks closer and closer to 2050, and promises appear even further out of reach.

What Now?

If anything is certain, it is that the Earth is not improving with each day that passes without progressive change towards clean energy. Some experts even claim that only 30 years remain to make the necessary changes in energy use to prevent disaster on Earth. In the case that the planet was to heat up just two more degrees, 153 million people could die. This is not a laughing matter. The construction of this pipeline is exceptionally problematic, and it must be delayed as much as possible in an attempt to prevent it from ever being finished. Thankfully, the project requires an additional eight permits aside from the one approved by the Court before it receives a green light. In other words, opportunity to halt its construction still exists! To bring about change, individuals could work with environmental groups specifically focusing on this issue. The biggest help right now is providing legal partners with a surplus of information to present as strong of a case in court as possible. It appears groups will continue to use litigation as their main strategy, so if anyone was hoping to aid, information acquisition is the best route. At the end of the day, everyone lives on the same Earth, and when issues like these appear, they must be stunted to reap the collective benefits of a healthier planet.