A federal appeals court has called in the Lorax, the grumpy little creature famous in Dr. Seuss’s book for acting as a guardian for the trees. In a recent decision filed by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, a three-judge panel stripped Dominion Energy’s permit to construct the Atlantic Coast Pipeline across two national forests and the Appalachian Trail. The permit was originally granted by the U.S. Forest Service.
The appeals court declared that in issuing the permit for the pipeline’s construction, the U.S. Forest Service "abdicated its responsibility to preserve national forest resources". The panel further commented that “We trust the United States Forest Service to 'speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.'" This decision on the part of the forest service did not act in the interest of the trees.
The pipeline, starting in West Virginia and continuing across Virginia and North Carolina, would pass through parts of the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests as well as the Appalachian Trail. The judges elaborated on the impacts that such construction would have on habitats: "Construction would involve clearing trees and other vegetation from a 125-foot right of way (reduced to 75 feet in wetlands) through the national forests, digging a trench to bury the pipeline, and blasting and flattening ridgelines in mountainous terrains. Following construction, the project requires maintaining a 50-foot right of way (reduced to 30 feet in wetlands) through the [two national forests] for the life of the pipeline."
There are also the concerns of how landslides in the area would affect a natural gas pipeline. Using the example of the Columbia Gas Transmission Pipeline, which burst this July after a landslide in West Virginia and exposed fragile Appalachian ecosystems, the court decided that the Forest Service conducted 'insufficient analysis of landslide risks'.
The judges unanimously concluded that the U.S. Forest Service’s granting of the permit to Dominion Energy for the pipeline “violated both the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, and found the Forest Service lacked the authority to grant the pipeline a right of way across the Appalachian Trail,” writes NPR. "This conclusion is particularly informed by the Forest Service's serious environmental concerns that were suddenly, and mysteriously, assuaged in time to meet a private pipeline company's deadlines," wrote the judges.
Dominion Energy has said it will appeal immediately to the full appeals court.