News | February 24, 2020

From the steps of the Supreme Court

Core members of the SELC team fighting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline pose on the steps of the Supreme Court of the United States. (©Stephanie Gross)
A man in a black suit walks up the stairs of the U.S. Supreme Court.
  Program Director DJ Gerken heads in to the Supreme Court early on the morning of Monday, Feb. 24. (@SamBaars/SELC)
A long line of people wait outside the U.S. Supreme Court.
A long line of people hoping for one of the 50 seats reserved for the public snaked around the block by Monday morning, with some of those at the front of the line waiting overnight. (@SamBaars/SELC)
A group of attorneys and other people walk across the Supreme Court plaza.
After the hearing (there are no phones or cameras allowed in the court), Gerken and Senior Attorneys Greg Buppert and Mark Sabath head across the Supreme Court plaza with Kelly Martin, Director of the Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign at Sierra Club, and David Sligh, Conservation Director of Wild Virginia, to meet waiting reporters. (@Stephanie Gross)
A man stands at a podium in front of the U.S. Supreme Court with clients and colleagues lined up behind him.
DJ Gerken addresses the crowd of reporters outside of the Supreme Court. (@Stephanie Gross)
A slew of reporters and cameras are lined up across from a podium outside the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court hearing drew broad media attention from local, regional and national outlets. (@Stephanie Gross)
A man in a suit addresses reporters taking notes on legal pads.
  Senior Attorney Greg Buppert answers follow-up questions for journalists following the press conference. (@Stephanie Gross)

Months of preparation boiled down to 30 minutes Monday as SELC and its co-counsel made their case before the Supreme Court of the United States. At issue is a permit from the U.S. Forest Service for a major pipeline carrying fracked gas to cross under the Appalachian Trail.

It was the unique nature of the Forest Service authorization which brought the issue before the nation’s highest court. In December of 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed with our clients that the Forest Service did not have the authority to grant the crossing because the trail is a unit of the National Park System. No oil or gas pipeline has ever been built across the Appalachian Trail on a new right of way over protected federal land. Existing pipelines do cross the trail but on state and private land, or under a pre-existing right on federal land.

“This pipeline has other routes available to it but pipeline developers refuse to consider them, demanding that they be able to cross on our public lands instead,” said Program Director DJ Gerken at a press conference held after the hearing.

First-come, first-serve public seating at the Supreme Court is limited and for many hoping to be in court for the arguments, the wait to get in began the night before when some started standing in line as early as 7 p.m. Sunday. By morning, the line wrapped around the block.  Following the argument, SELC attorneys, clients, and partners gathered behind a podium where they spoke with national and regional press.

The permit before the Supreme Court is one of 8 currently on hold for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a 600-mile project running from West Virginia, through Virginia and on into North Carolina.

“Have no doubt, this pipeline is unreasonable and risky and has a long road ahead of it no matter what happened here today,” said Gerken during the press conference.

A decision in the Supreme Court case is expected no sooner than late spring.

To read how the case was presented to the justices, you can access transcripts of the hearing here.

A video of the press conference is available here.

To learn more about the many challenges still facing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, visit

Learn more about why we took our case to the Supreme Court.