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Cowpasture River Preservation Association v. Forest Service

911 F.3d 150 (2018)

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Cowpasture River Preservation Association v. Forest Service

United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

911 F.3d 150 (2018)

Facts

In 2012, the United States Forest Service (the Forest Service) issued a land-management-planning rule (the 2012 rule) establishing requirements concerning soil, riparian zones, and threatened and endangered species. In 2016, the Forest Service amended the 2012 rule to require the Forest Service to apply the 2012 rule to forest-plan amendments if the rule’s requirements were directly related to the amendments. In 2015, Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (Atlantic) applied to the Forest Service for permits to build a natural-gas pipeline with a proposed route that crossed 21 miles of national-forest land. In its record of decision (ROD) granting the permits, the Forest Service amended a total of 13 standards in the forest plans related to soil, water, riparian, threatened and endangered species, and recreational and visual resources. The ROD stated that the purpose of the amendments was to meet the requirements of the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) by relaxing these standards to allow construction of the pipeline, but it failed to analyze whether the requirements of the 2012 rule were related to the amendments’ purpose. Instead, the ROD concluded that the requirements were not related to the amendments’ purpose and moved directly to an analysis of the effects of the amendments. The Forest Service decided that the amendments’ effects had to be both substantial and long-term to be directly related to the 2012 rule. Despite finding that the project would cause several years of substantially increased soil loss and that forested sites would take many decades to recover, the ROD concluded that the amendments would have neither a substantial nor a long-term effect and that there was no requirement for the amendments to comply with the 2012 rule. Cowpasture River Preservation Association (plaintiff) and others challenged the amendments, arguing that the Forest Service had violated the NFMA by failing to apply the 2012 rule to the amendments.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Thacker, J.)

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