To the Editor:
The Appalachian Trail, spanning nearly 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine, maintains a natural mystique that cannot be found anywhere else on earth. It attracts over 3 million visitors annually and is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world.
Regrettably, this national treasure is imperiled by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which is set to pass through the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests and bisect the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway. The 600-mile pipeline begins in Harrison County, West Virginia, travels through Virginia, extends into southern and eastern North Carolina, ending in Robeson County.
In a dispute between the National Park Service and the United States Forest Service, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2018 that the Appalachian Trail and the 600 feet below it, which is necessary for the construction of the pipeline, fell under the jurisdiction of the National Parks Service. On June 15, 2020, in a 7-2 reversal of the 4th Circuit decision, the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the 1968 Trails System Act to mean that although the National Parks Service may run a footpath over the land, the land underneath belongs to the National Forest Service. In their dissent, Justices Sotomayor and Kagan asserted that if the National Parks Service administers the trail, it must also administer the land underneath, as the trail cannot be separated from the underlying land. As a result of this ruling, the U.S. Forest Service has the authority to issue a permit to pipeline developers.
The preservation of the Appalachian Trail is of considerable significance to many of us, and I’ve spent countless summer days mesmerized by its beauty, awed by its challenges, and felt the sense of wonder that arises when hiking through these mountains. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is destructive, dangerous, and unnecessary. Its negative impacts, which include restricted access to clean water and breathable air, disproportionately fall on low-income workers and people of color. Corporate greed should not take precedence over the livelihood of entire communities.