United States Forest Serv. v. Cowpasture River Pres. Ass'n
Supreme Court of the United States
February 24, 2020, Argued; June 15, 2020, Decided
Nos. 18-1584 and 18-1587.
Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court.
We granted certiorari in these consolidated cases to decide whether ] the United States Forest Service has authority under the Mineral Leasing Act, 30 U. S. C. §181 et seq., to grant rights-of-way through lands within national forests traversed [*6] by the Appalachian Trail. 588 U.S. ___, 140 S. Ct. 36, 204 L. Ed. 2d 1193 (2019). We hold that the Mineral Leasing Act does grant the Forest Service that authority and therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
In 2015, petitioner Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (Atlantic) filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to construct and operate an approximately 604-mile natural gas pipeline extending from West Virginia to North Carolina. The pipeline’s proposed route traverses 16 miles of land within the George Washington National Forest. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail (Appalachian Trail or Trail) also crosses parts of the George Washington National Forest.
To construct the pipeline, Atlantic needed to obtain special use permits from the United States Forest Service for the portions of the pipeline that would pass through lands under the Forest Service’s jurisdiction. In 2018, the Forest Service issued these permits and granted a right-of-way that would allow Atlantic to place a 0.1-mile segment of pipe approximately 600 feet below the Appalachian Trail in the George Washington National Forest.
Respondents Cowpasture River Preservation Association, Highlanders for Responsible Development, Shenandoah [*7] Valley Battlefields Foundation, Shenandoah Valley Network, Sierra Club, Virginia Wilderness Committee, and Wild Virginia filed a petition for review in the Fourth Circuit. They contended that the issuance of the special use permit for the right-of-way under the Trail, as well as numerous other aspects of the Forest Service’s regulatory process, violated the Mineral Leasing Act (Leasing Act), 41 Stat. 437, 30 U. S. C. §181 et seq., the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, 83 Stat. 852, 42 U. S. C. §4321 et seq., the National Forest Management Act of 1976, 90 Stat. 2952, 16 U. S. C. §1604, and the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U. S. C. §500 et seq. Atlantic intervened in the suit.
The Fourth Circuit vacated the Forest Service’s special use permit after holding that the Leasing Act did not empower the Forest Service to grant the pipeline right-of-way beneath the Trail. As relevant here, the court concluded that the Appalachian Trail had become part of the National Park System because, though originally charged with the Trail’s administration, 16 U. S. C. §1244(a)(1), the Secretary of the Interior delegated that duty to the National Park Service, 34 Fed. Reg. 14337 (1969). In the Fourth Circuit’s view, this delegation made the Trail part of the National Park System because the Trail was now an “area of land . . . administered by the Secretary [of the Interior] acting through [*8] the Director [of the National Park Service].” 54 U. S. C. §100501. Because it concluded the Trail was now within the National Park System, the court held that the Trail was beyond the authority of “the Secretary of the Interior or appropriate agency head” to grant pipeline rights-of-way under the Leasing Act. 30 U. S. C. §185(a). See 911 F. 3d 150, 179-181 (CA4 2018). Read The Full CaseNot a Lexis Advance subscriber? Try it out for free.
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2020 U.S. LEXIS 3251 *
UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE, ET AL., PETITIONERS v. COWPASTURE RIVER PRESERVATION ASSOCIATION ET AL.;ATLANTIC COAST PIPELINE, LLC, PETITIONER v. COWPASTURE RIVER PRESERVATION ASSOCIATION, ET AL.
Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.
Prior History: [*1] ON WRITS OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
Cowpasture River Pres. Ass'n v. Forest Serv., 911 F.3d 150, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 35060 (4th Cir., Dec. 13, 2018)
Trail, Forest, pipeline, easement, right-of-way, rights-of-way, delegation, recreational, Parkway, scenic, Rivers, acres, ownership, segment, bureau, Non-Federal, monument, Manual, natural-gas, private-law, landowners, traverses, Acreage
Energy & Utilities Law, Mining Industry, Mineral Leasing Act, Governments, Public Lands, Forest Lands, Environmental Law, Natural Resources & Public Lands, Forest Management, Public Lands, Federal Land Management, Pipelines & Transportation, Easements & Rights of Way, National Parks, Real Property Law, Limited Use Rights, Easements, General Characteristics, Legislation, Interpretation, Public Easements, Federal Government, Property, Ownership & Transfer, Public Entities, Administrative Law, Separation of Powers, Legislative Controls