W.Va. joins 16-states seeking to overturn court ruling on pipeline [Times West Virginian, Fairmont]

Oil and Gas PipelineAug. 1–BRIDGEPORT — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced Wednesday that the state has joined a 16-state coalition to overturn a ruling that he said brought the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project “to a screeching halt.”

Standing in front of others supporting the move at a Bridgeport press conference, Morrisey said his office filed a brief Monday with the U.S. Supreme Court. He said he was optimistic because he thought the 16 states were “right on the law.”

The 16 states are urging the U.S. Supreme Court “to review, and ultimately overturn,” the ruling that halted construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, according to Morrisey.

“We’re asking for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this case,” he said. “First, they have to agree to hear it, then they’ll ultimately rule on the merits.”

The coalition’s brief “argues a federal appeals court was inaccurate in ruling the U.S. Forest Service lacked authority to grant the Atlantic Coast Pipeline rights-of-way through forestland beneath the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.”

As designed, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will transport natural gas through Harrison, Lewis, Upshur, Randolph and Pocahontas counties en route to Virginia and North Carolina.

“Now, in layman’s terms, the folks challenging these actions — the ones challenging the pipeline — they want to make all federal land along the Appalachian Trail an impenetrable barrier,” he said.

If things stand as they are, he said there would be “a significant setback for energy development in our state and our country.”

Morrisey said the 600-mile pipeline crosses the trail at “just one place” that “straddles two slivers of Virginia counties.”

“Most importantly, not only does the pipeline never touch the trail, it goes about 600 feet beneath it using a horizontal directional drill,” he said. “That means there’s going to be zero impact to the trail.”

Morrisey said he loves the great outdoors like others who also feel deeply about it, but said “we also have to ensure there’s energy development in our state and in our country.”

“And if you were to use some of these national trails and set them up as barriers where you effectively can’t go over, under, around, through, that’s a very big problem,” he said. “And it’s a problem for a lot of reasons. It’s a problem for the state of West Virginia. West Virginia’s working overtime to try to grow economically. You hear all the stats about West Virginia being at the bottom of a lot of these lists. I think you’re seeing some movement in recent years. You’re seeing an uptick.”

He said there’s been a lot of work in the energy industry.

“We know that part of the reason for the state budget surplus is because of the gas and the Marcellus region and all the economic activity that’s related to that,” he said. “We need that to continue.”

“It’s also critical because when you have a pipeline, you have a lot of good-paying jobs,” he said. He said people making the high wages are able to feed their families, which he said is critical.

He said West Virginia is at a very critical point in its history.

Morrisey said it’s important that the state grow its “people resources” to make sure it’s not left behind.

“Now, because the 4th Circuit wrongly decided this case, many of the hardworking men and women have left behind their families to find work in other states in the union,” he said.

He said the pipeline is a chance for West Virginia to address the poverty that has affected the Mountain State.

“When you can provide those kind of good-paying jobs, and the revenue to the local counties in the state, that would make all the difference in the world,” he said.

Speaking of the economic impact of the pipeline in terms of not only jobs but revenue from income and property taxes, he gave a concrete example of how local counties could be affected.

“It means that if you’re in Lewis County, and maybe you want to put a little bit more effort into fighting the drug epidemic, you want to hire another deputy sheriff, you want to purchase more cruisers, that extra million dollars or more, depending on what county you’re in, that can make all the difference in the world,” he said.

“The economic activity that will flow from this pipeline, I think, we can’t even quantify here today,” he said.

One of the people speaking after Morrisey, Cindy Whetsell, director of the Lewis County Economic Development Authority, said, “We are West Virginians and we deserve the best.”

“We deserve the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to be built and operational,” she said.

She said Lewis County would be home to nearly 20 miles of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and a compressor station.

“This is estimated to bring an additional $4 million dollars annually to the county tax base,” she said. “This is revenue that we should have realized this year, but stalls creating idle work sites have robbed our communities and our citizens of opportunity. This is much-needed revenue to ensure a quality of life, to provide future growth and to educate our children.”

While Morrisey touted filing the brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, environmental groups are watching the case move through the courts.

“The West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club is deeply disappointed that Attorney General Patrick Morrisey continues his tradition of wasting state resources in pursuit of legal decisions which would harm the people of West Virginia,” stated Justin Raines, member engagement chair at the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, via email.

“Today’s attempt to convince the courts to subvert environmental laws in order to ram through fracked gas pipelines is the type of political grandstanding we have sadly come to expect from an Attorney General who is also abusing his office in an attempt to strip 184,000 West Virginians of health insurance,” Raines continued..

“We trust that the courts will uphold the decisions of the Fourth Circuit to require agencies regulating the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to follow environmental law and protect our communities,” Raines said.

In response, Curtis Johnson, Morrisey’s press secretary, said, “This isn’t about the environment. Attorney General Morrisey is a strong advocate of the Appalachian Trail and the national trail system. This pipeline would have no negative implications on the trail as it would be hundreds of feet beneath the surface. It is sad that these groups are misguided and willing to put the jobs of so many hard working West Virginians at risk.”

Other states joining the West Virginia-led brief are Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

Eric Hrin can be reached at 304-367-2549, or ehrin@timeswv.com.

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