*Editor’s Note: This newsletter from Ray Starling, NC Chamber General Counsel and president of the Chamber’s Legal Institute, was originally sent Tuesday, June 16th.
On Monday (6/15), the United States Supreme Court ruled that developers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline could be granted right-of-way access by the U.S. Forest Service to extend the project beneath the Appalachian Trail, reversing an earlier decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The 7-2 decision in Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association represents an important step toward completion for the $8 billion pipeline that will bring jobs, development, and more affordable energy rates to economically distressed areas of North Carolina.
In December of 2019, the NC Chamber Legal Institute joined with the National Association of Manufacturers and other interested parties in an amicus effort that urged the Court to embrace the very position it ultimately adopted in this case. CLI is particularly interested in cases that give litigants and judges an opportunity to rewrite the law notwithstanding elected representatives’ and regulators’ refusals to do so.
Let’s be clear: this case was never about concerns over the longstanding process federal agencies have used to grant rights-of-way on federal lands. In actuality, as the amicus brief we joined explained, the Cowpasture case was really designed by activists “to stymie critical energy pipeline development.” With this victory, our region will secure 17,000 new jobs (including 2,000 long-term positions), $2.7 billion in economic activity, and $377 million in yearly consumer energy costs savings.
With our state currently fighting to recover from the impacts of COVID-19, we need this important project now more than ever. I have heard from partners behind the ACP who, in the wake of this ruling, are already working to ensure construction on the pipeline can resume later this year. Here in North Carolina, the growth and development catalyzed by the ACP will most positively affect residents of our more economically depressed eastern counties, bringing low-cost energy and better jobs to these underserved areas.
Moreover, the ACP represents a step forward in our transition to a cleaner energy future as natural gas offers a lower-emission energy source that will better enable our state’s utilities to meet the emission targets set in the Clean Energy Plan. It is worth noting also that ACP developers have a history of leaving trails impacted by the pipeline’s crossing in better condition than they found them. With the U.S. Forest Service and the National Parks Service having long cooperated to effectively oversee safe infrastructure crossings of the Appalachian Trail, this ruling truly is a win-win for our economy and our environment.
I could not be more pleased with this breath of fresh air and what it means for economic development in our state – and I applaud our Supreme Court justices who decided to inject a much-needed dose of commonsense into this discussion, allowing the rule of law to prevail over a potentially dangerous judicial precedent.
General Counsel, NC Chamber
President, NC Chamber Legal Institute