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Supreme Court Pipeline Fight Could Disrupt The Appalachian Trail

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Automatic TRANSCRIPT

We're going to spend the next few minutes talking about Supreme Court case and the group that feels caught between the two sides. If it's ever built the Atlantic coast pipeline would run six hundred miles and carry natural gas from West Virginia North Carolina and Virginia. Between Start Finish is a big physical barrier the Blue Ridge mountains and what has become a potential legal barrier the Appalachian trail environmental groups who oppose the pipeline have challenged the legality of a forest service permanent allowing the pipeline to cross the trail. The people who manage the trails say that challenge took them by surprise and they warn the ruling in favor of those environmental groups could up in the trails complicated management structure. Npr's Becky Sullivan explains Do you want to uh. Let's go this way earlier. This month I came out to the spot on the trail where the Atlantic coast pipeline may one day cross. It's about an hour west of Charlottesville right up on a mountain ridge. The George Washington National Forest. The trail is just a dirt footpath winding through trees. That are all bear because it's February from up here you can see out into the valley to the north. I met Andrew Downes a senior regional director for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. That's the private organization that oversees the day to day management of the trail the coordinates efforts between federal and state agencies and the boots on the groundwork of regional groups and volunteers. So the the orange you think that orange flags are marking this. It's it's about in the right area and I've been out here probably a dozen times as we're walking along the trail. Andrew Downes wants to make one thing clear the Appalachian Trail. Conservancy is not opposed to this pipeline. They don't support it but they also don't oppose that's not to say that there aren't direct impacts from Atlanta 'cause pipeline to the show there are our analysis led us to the conclusion that the scope and range of those impacts did rise to the level requiring opposition for one the pipeline would cross under the trail about seven hundred feet underground it would enter and exit on private land off the national forest. You would see a clear pathway around the pipeline off in the distance and if we were standing in True Wilderness Andrew. Johns says that might be caused for but standing on the trail here. It's not exactly wilderness. We're looking at. The view is already dotted with what he calls impacts houses roads fields all sorts of things cutting through the trees below all the visual impacts that we see for the you know this kind of wilderness experience. The best way to do that is for all those things not to exist in this natural enforced in landscape. But the reality is you know. We're here. The Blue Ridge Parkway here people's homes are here and this is part of the society we live in the Appalachian trail. Conservancy runs on this kind of pragmatism. It's part of the deal when you're coordinating multiple federal and state agencies with the effort of thirty plus regional clubs and thousands of volunteers. The conservancy has been doing this work for almost a century so well before the Appalachian trail was brought under federal management as part of the national trails system in the nineteen sixties. But they were not part of this litigation what happens is is people want to stop a pipeline oftentimes for good reasons and they. WanNa use every tool available To do that. The question before the court centers around who is allowed to grant a permit for pipeline like this on federal land because the pipeline would cross the trail in a national forest the four service granted permits the pipeline company. The Forest Service doesn't have the authority to grant a permit across the National Park and though the trail is managed day today by the Appalachian Trail. Conservancy it is technically a part of the National Park. System Noah Sachs is a professor of environmental law at the University of Richmond. He's been watching this case so if in fact the Appalachian trail is part of the national park system then the Forest Service had no authority to authorize this tunneling underneath it for the Atlantic coast pipeline. That's the argument and environmental group. Used to challenge the Forest Service permit the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and they revoked the permit. The pipeline company has appealed. So that's really the crux of the issue. That's before the Supreme Court on Monday. The issue of on the ground authority over the Appalachian trail has never been questioned in this way before. Trail officials say this worries them because of the way they manage the trail because it causes so many different kinds of lands federal state parks forest even some privately owned land. The Appalachian trail conservancy has relied on decades of precedent policies and understanding. In order to do its work. It's not that it would all come crashing down tomorrow. But Supreme Court ruling could potentially trigger along bureaucratic process if reexamining and reestablishing many of the policies and procedures that have effectively been in place for more than fifty years and that process could disrupt the trails everyday management needs until her retirement last December Rita. Hennessy was the administrator of the national trail system. That's the office within the park. Service that oversees these types of national trails. The Fourth Circuit's ruling in two thousand eighteen caught her by surprise the fact that it was identifying the Appalachian trail corridor as part of the National Park Service. That's what was most surprising that that's not how we have managed the national trails system for fifty years. And is he told me. She immediately worried about the domino effects when I asked how a Supreme Court decision to uphold might affect the administration of the Appalachian Trail and is he reeled off a series of policies that could be thrown into doubt issues of environmental compliance land-management acquiring lands trail maintenance volunteer use. You get the idea. She'll be watching the arguments Monday with some nervousness because any decision by the Supreme Court could change things for the trail you know having worked with national trails for my whole thirty year career and beyond that it it. It's something that's out there that that is just looming and were not sure how it's going to be decided. The trail conservancy says they are already seen complications. From the case they say the four service recently asked them to put on pause every trail maintenance project they had plans that would take place on national forest land. This summer the forest service declined to comment because of the ongoing litigation. The Southern Environmental Law Center is the Environmental Group leading the litigation in response to trail. Officials concerns attorney. Dj Gherkins says the question before the court is so narrow that it will not affect trail management. No one should worry that the outcome of this case is going to affect the cooperative management that has been part of the Appalachian trails success and should be going forward no matter how the court rules. It's not the end of the road for the Atlantic coast pipeline or for the environmental groups who oppose it. The pipeline company is lobbying Congress for a special permit and Gherkins. Group has won several other challenges to the pipeline. That will still pose obstacles regardless of how this case turns out for the trail. This is the big one Andrew Downes with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. There are a lot of organizations who are focused on protecting the environment Litigating broad focused environmental issues and I applaud those folks but there's only one organization the whole world that's dedicated solely to the Appalachian trail and we have to make sure that our decision process reflects that that level of Focus. Because if it's not us that speak for the trail and only the trail in no one else will oral arguments for the case. Take place Monday. The court is expected to rule this summer becky Sullivan NPR