U.S. Forest Serv. v. Cowpasture River Pres. Ass’n

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Administrative Law
  • Date Filed: June 15, 2020
  • Case #: 18-1584
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: THOMAS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BREYER, ALITO, GORSUCH, GINSBURG, JJ., and ROBERTS, C.J. joined. SOTOMAYOR, J. filed a dissenting opinion in which KAGAN, J. joined.
  • Full Text Opinion

"Rights-of-way through any Federal lands may be granted by the Secretary of the Interior or appropriate agency head for pipeline purposes for the transportation of oil, natural gas, synthetic liquid or gaseous fuels, or any refined product produced therefrom to any applicant possessing the qualifications provided in section 181 of this title in accordance with the provisions of this section." 30 U.S.C. § 185(a).

Petitioner was granted right-of-way permits over 16 miles in George Washington National Forest, which also partially included the Appalachian Trail, from the U.S. Forest Service to build pipeline. Respondent challenged these permits. On review, the Fourth Circuit negated the permit and held that right-of-way permits exceeded the Forest Service’s jurisdiction.“Rights-of-way” over federal lands can be granted only by the “appropriate agency.” 30 U.S.C. § 185(a). The Trail Act grants authority to the National Park System to regulate the Appalachian Trial. 54 U.S.C. § 100501; 16 U.S.C. § 1244(a)(1). However, all National Forests are governed by the Forest Service. 16 U.S.C. § 1609.The United States Supreme Court held that the Forest Service was the “appropriate agency” to grant Petitioner right-of-way beneath the National Forest, despite its crossover with the Trail. §185(a). Because the Forest Service unambiguously had jurisdiction over areas within the National Park, the Forest Service likewise had jurisdiction over the part of the Appalachian Trail within the National Park. Here, the Court reasoned that the Trail Act did not convey ownership from the National Forest Service to the National Park System. Rather, the Trail Act merely granted the Park Service an easement over the land included in Trail. REVERSED.

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