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Cowpasture River Preservation Association v. Forest Service

ELR Citation: 48 ELR 20204
Nos. 18-1144, (4th Cir., 12/13/2018)

The Fourth Circuit vacated the U.S. Forest Service's decisions authorizing a natural gas pipeline to be constructed across two national forests. Environmental groups argued that the agency violated the National Forest Management Act when it determined that its amendments to the George Washington and Mongahela National Forest Plans to accommodate the pipeline were not "directly related" to new substantive forest plan requirements that the agency introduced in 2012. The court agreed, concluding that the agency's amendments, which exempted the pipeline project from forest plan standards concerning soil, water, riparian, and threatened and endangered species, were clearly directly related to the purpose of the new requirements, and that the agency acted arbitrarily and capriciously in concluding otherwise. The groups also argued that the agency violated NEPA by adopting an EIS that failed to take a hard look at landslide risks, erosion impacts, and water quality degradation from the pipeline. The court concluded that the Service disregarded its own concerns that FERC's draft EIS lacked necessary information to evaluate environmental consequences when it adopted the Commission's final EIS where the agency's concerns had not been addressed. The court therefore vacated the Service's decisions authorizing construction of the pipeline and remanded to the agency for further proceedings.