U.S. Fourth Circuit - The FindLaw 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Controversial Gas Pipeline Cases Heard by 4th Circuit

The Sierra Club filed two lawsuits to stop a gas pipeline, and they converged in arguments at the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In one case, the club says the 303-mile pipeline will violate the Clean Water Act. In the other, the plaintiff argues that construction will harm forest aminals.

But the arguments flowed together over a basic consequence of river water -- sedimentation.

Moving Water

Benjamin Luckett said Virginia's Quality Control Board should reconsider the pipeline's affect on waterways. Based on studies that show a 1,500 percent increase in sedimentation along the pipeline path, he said it will lead to more erosion.

"It's a state's duty to determine the damage from erosion," Luckett told the judges. "Without that analysis, the state can't conclude the project is safe."

Judge William Traxler seemed skeptical. He questioned what the federal government, which is in charge of the project, is supposed to do if the state stops it.

"These challenges seem like they have no end," he said.

Forest Erosion

In the second Sierra Club case, lawyers argued about the impact on the Jefferson National Forest. The environmental group said construction would lead to "widespread erosion."

Nathan Matthews said the forest service had an "imperfect" prediction about sedimentation. He also said that clearing the forest for construction would change paths for everything from sunlight to wind to animals.

"It would no longer be an interior forest," he said.

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