U.S. Supreme Court Gives Joe Biden Administration and Democrats a Critical Victory

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.

The U.S. Supreme Court granted an urgent request on Thursday from supporters of the contentious Mountain Valley Pipeline, which has the backing of Congress and the Biden administration. The decision paves the way for the project’s construction to begin.

The justices decided to overturn lower court orders that had temporarily halted project construction while legal issues are resolved.

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat who has supported the project and pushed for it during debt ceiling negotiations in June, has won with the Supreme Court’s decision.

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The court provided only a brief explanation for its decision, and no dissents were noted.

“The 300-mile-long pipeline would transport gas from West Virginia’s Marcellus and Utica shale areas to Virginia. The pipeline would cross waterways and federal national forest lands, which is why it went through a complex environmental permitting process and led to multiple lawsuits. The project has been severely delayed, in part, because several of the court challenges were upheld by the Virginia-based 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which has repeatedly tossed the project’s permits, citing environmental violations,” CNN reported.

“In June, however, members of Congress came together under debt ceiling negotiations to pass the Fiscal Responsibility Act, known as Section 324, mandating the completion of the pipeline and stripping jurisdiction of courts to hear challenges regarding federal approvals of the project. President Joe Biden signed it into law on June 3. Environmental groups such as the Wilderness Society, argued that Congress had exceeded its authority in passing the law. On July 10, the appeals court entered an order freezing construction and agreed to expedite the case,” the outlet added.

Supporters of the pipeline assert that they will not be able to put the pipeline into service by the end of the year if they are unable to resume operations by July 26.

The appeals court in Richmond currently has a hearing in the case scheduled for that day. The groups are expected to claim that Section 324 is unconstitutional while supporters of the pipeline will ask the court to reject their appeals.

In court documents, attorneys for one of the environmental groups urged the Supreme Court to maintain the stay, pointing out that the lower court had given the case an expedited schedule.

They argued that Section 324 was “tailored to mandate victory” for the Mountain Valley pipeline and that Congress “cannot pick winners and losers in pending litigation by compelling finds or results.”

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They also stressed the environmental concern for the pipeline which, they argue, forced “hundreds” of private landowners to go to court for eminent domain proceedings. They said the pipeline crosses terrain that is both “demanding and fragile” and at times climbs up more than 200 miles of steep “landslide-prone” mountains.

Supporters of the project argued in court documents that the appeals court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case because, according to Section 324 of the law, all challenges of this nature have been rendered moot. They asserted that the law is constitutional as well.

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“Time is of the essence,” Don Verrilli, a lawyer for the backers of the project argued in court papers. He told the court if the project remains on hold, it will “prevent the Pipeline from being placed in service by the end of the year” adding to the billions of dollars of losses already incurred “as a result of prior litigation asking to prevent the Pipeline from being built” and will “undermine the public interest benefits Congress identified in the Act.”

In court papers, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar argued that the appeals court lacked the authority to stay the agencies’ action, which had “profoundly impaired” the operation of the pipeline, and that Congress was “well within” its constitutional authority to pass the law.

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