Today, on behalf of National Parks Conservation Association and the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, we filed an amicus brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Sierra Club v. National Parks Service, a case challenging the National Park Service’s (“NPS”) issuance of a right-of-way to Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC to construct a natural gas pipeline across the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway (“Parkway”). Despite the significant adverse impacts that the proposed pipeline will have on the Parkway, including adverse impacts to the viewsheds, NPS issued a categorical exclusion (“CE”) for the project, exempting the pipeline from thorough environmental review under NEPA. Our brief explains that the plain language of the specific CE invoked limits its application to the installation of underground utilities in previously disturbed areas, which cannot include a pipeline that will cut across undisturbed Parkway lands. Moreover, even assuming the CE applied, extraordinary circumstances are present that preclude the use of a CE for the project and require the preparation of an environmental impact statement or, at minimum, an environmental assessment to allow for a full evaluation of the significant impacts that the project will have on the Parkway. Finally, our brief explains that NPS violated the Organic Act when it issued the right-of-way for the proposed pipeline because the pipeline’s acknowledged adverse effects on the viewshed are inconsistent with the Parkway’s express purposes to “conserve the scenery” and “provide opportunities for high-quality scenic and recreational experiences.” You can find a copy of our brief here.
Photo credit: National Park Service.