Sierra Club v. U.S. Dept. of the Interior, No. 18-1082 (4th Cir. 2018)

Protected Areas

Sierra Club v. U.S. Dept. of the Interior, ___ F.3d ___ (4th Cir., August 6, 2018)(No. 18-1082, consolidated with No. 18-1083)
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

The National Park Service (NPS) issued a permit allowing construction of a natural gas pipeline under a portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway,  a scenic byway that is part of the National Park System.  The pipeline project would remove a segment of forest, leaving a 50-foot permanent clearing visible to parkway visitors. Conservation organizations challenged the decision, arguing that the NPS lacked authority to grant a right-of-way for the pipeline and, secondly, that the permit is invalid because it is inconsistent with the parkway’s scenic and recreational purposes. 

U.S. laws governing national parks generally, and the Blue Ridge Parkway specifically, prohibit any right-of-way that is inconsistent with the conservation and preservation purposes of the park. For the Blue Ridge Parkway these purposes include “provid[ing] opportunities for high quality scenic and recreational experiences along the parkway and in the corridor through which it passes.”  Id., p. 57 (citing Blue Ridge Parkway Organic Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 460a2-a11).

In granting the right-of-way, the NPS failed to include any explanation to justify its finding that the pipeline construction and use would be consistent with the purposes  of the parkway. The Court of Appeals found this “troubling given the evidence in the record indicating that the presence of the pipeline is inconsistent with and in derogation of the purposes of the Parkway and the Park System.”  Id., p. 58.  For that reason, the Court would have to assume that the NPS overlooked or ignored important aspects of the decision. 

The Court vacated the right-of-way permit.