LUMBERTON — North Carolina’s top lawyer is not among the 18 state attorneys general who on Monday urged the U.S. Supreme Court to allow construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to continue.
Josh Stein did not join the coalition of AGs, led by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, that filed a brief asking the court to overturn a ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia. The court ruled on Dec. 13, 2018, that the U.S. Forest Service lacks the power to grant rights-of-way to cross beneath the Appalachian Trail. Plans call for a 0.1-mile segment of the pipeline to cross more than 600 feet beneath the Appalachian Trail.
The AGs argue, in part, that the ruling was “a clear misinterpretation of the law, disregards the Executive Branch’s historical process, and puts at risk domestic energy production, economic growth, and national security.”
The brief does not make the attorneys general parties to the case. Instead, it makes it clear they support the ACP because their states would benefit from the $5 billion, 600-mile pipeline that would carry fracked natural gas from West Virginia through Virginia and North Carolina. The pipeline would end near Pembroke.
Other states supporting the brief are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.
As of 8 p.m. Monday, Stein’s office had not responded to an email seeking comment.
The Supreme Court agreed in October to hear the pipeline builders’ appeal.
The pipeline project partners, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas, filed a brief Dec. 2 stating the merits of their case, said Aaron Ruby, Dominion Energy’s medial relations manager. Oral arguments are scheduled for Feb. 24, with a final ruling expected by June.
The appeal is supported by a broad coalition of stakeholders, including the 18 state attorneys general, the U.S. solicitor general and more than a dozen industry groups and labor unions, Ruby said.
“We believe the facts and the law are on our side, and it definitely strengthens our case to have such a broad coalition of support,” Ruby said.
Construction of the pipeline would support more than 4,000 North Carolina jobs, he said. The ACP would create nearly 1,000 new jobs in manufacturing and other new industries across Eastern North Carolina, the builders say.
“It will also generate almost $8 million in annual tax revenue for local governments across North Carolina, including nearly $900,000 for Robeson County,” Ruby said.
Critics say the demand for the natural gas that would flow through the pipeline does not exist. They say construction of the ACP is a threat to the environment and is a safety hazard. The also say the pipeline poses a threat to the cultural history of American Indian tribes, such as the Lumbee Tribe, that live along the ACP’s proposed route.
In a copy of a brief filed Dec. 2 and obtained Monday by The Robesonian, 21 “trade associations,” collectively referred to as “Amici,” stated their support for and interest in seeing the ACP built.
The attorneys general argue three major points in their brief filed Monday.
The first is that Congress did not intend to insert itself into every pipeline crossing a designated trail.
“As the petitioners’ briefs explain in detail, Congress’ enactment of the national forest management statutes permanently vested jurisdiction over national forests in the Forest Service — not the Park Service — and nothing in the MLA (Mineral Leasing Act) or the NTSA (National Trails System Act) clearly altered that Forest Service jurisdiction,” the brief reads in part.
The second is that the Forest Service’s ability to permit pipeline infrastructure is critical to U.S. energy security.
“U.S. energy production relies upon a fully functioning pipeline system, and pipeline transportation of domestic natural gas and oil products is essential to manufacturing, electricity generation, economic development, and job creation.
“By precluding Forest Service approvals of pipeline rights-of-way crossing the Appalachian Trail within national forests, the Court of Appeals’ decision introduces new and considerable uncertainty to complex pipeline projects, upsets settled expectations and a consistent Executive Branch approach, and jeopardizes critical domestic energy development,” the brief reads in part.
Third, the AGs argue that conversion of trails to Park Service lands threatens rights-of-way for other critical infrastructure.
The brief reads in part, “The application of the court of appeals’ decision is not limited to energy pipelines. The court of appeals did not consider that if the NTSA’s designation of the Park Service as administrator of a national trail is all that is required to convey the underlying lands to the Park Service, then those lands necessarily are Park Service lands for all purposes. This does not simply mean that proponents of other types of projects crossing national trails must seek a right-of-way from the Park Service instead of the Forest Service.
“Rather, rights-of-way will become more difficult to obtain, and retain, due to the Park Service’s chiefly conservation mandate and consequently narrower statutory authority to approve productive uses of Park Service lands.”
The pipeline is needed now more than ever for North Carolina’s economy and the state’s transition to clean energy, Ruby said.
“Communities across eastern North Carolina are experiencing chronic shortages of natural gas, and it’s hindering economic growth,” he said. “Duke Energy is also rapidly transitioning from coal to cleaner natural gas and renewables, but the current infrastructure can’t support it. New infrastructure is the only solution.”