For the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a roughly six-hundred-mile natural gas pipeline stretching from West Virginia to North Carolina, a right-of-way to intersect the Appalachian Trail was essential. Although the proposed pipeline crossed below the trail by about six-hundred feet, it would require clearing of trees and plants along its length, drilling through a mountain, and constructing
three compressor stations. Throughout the project’s history, community and environmental groups opposed its construction. One coalition challenged different aspects of the pipeline permitting process under federal law and won a favorable U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit verdict. But the Supreme Court reversed an aspect of the Fourth Circuit’s decision, holding that the U.S. Forest Service has the authority to grant a right-of-way on land crossed by the Appalachian Trail. However, even a Supreme Court win was not enough to save the project: the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was canceled shortly after it received a favorable decision from the nation’s highest court. The showdown between Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Appalachian Trail exemplifies the tension between escalating U.S. oil and gas development and protecting spaces for recreational, scientific, cultural, and aesthetic uses. This Note argues the legislative and executive history behind the National Trails System Act of 1968 supports the protection of trails on federal lands, and the plain language of a statutory trio reserves to Congress the ability to grant oil
and gas pipeline rights-of-way across national trails in the National Park System, such as the Appalachian Trail. In addition, this Note suggests an alternative framework for granting oil and gas pipeline rights-of-ways across national trails both in and outside the National Park System. Given that national trails were created to offer an escape from development and industry, oil and gas pipeline rights-of-way should only be granted across national trails on federal lands if no prudent and feasible alternative exists. By limiting oil and gas pipeline development on national trails, such trails may be preserved for future users, untrammeled and undisturbed, as escapes.