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Let work on pipeline proceed

Beginning in central Maine on a map of the eastern United States, draw a line roughly southwest to northern Georgia. Should the millions of people living east of that line be deprived of inexpensive natural gas from the Appalachian states?

Of course not. But a federal appeals court ruling could have that effect or, at the very least, force pipeline companies to run lines for hundreds of miles north and south to circumvent the line. That, in turn would drive up the price of gas.

That line, generally, is the route taken by the famed Appalachian Trail. At more than 2,180 miles, it is the longest walking-only trail in the world. It also is at the center of a court dispute over the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, much of which already has been constructed in West Virginia. The line is intended to transport gas from that region to the eastern seaboard states.

About a year ago, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals halted construction of the pipeline, ruling that the U.S. Forest Service lacks the authority to grant pipeline rights of way across the trail and through the Monongahela and George Washington national forests.

Energy companies have appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.

Now, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is leading a coalition of 18 states, including Ohio, in formally urging the high court to allow construction of the pipeline to continue.

Opponents of the line — and of many other energy infrastructure plans — insist construction will devastate important natural areas.

It need not do that, however. Pipeline companies spend enormous amounts of money solely to avoid doing such damage. In the case of the Appalachian Trail, the strategy is for the pipeline to run 600 feet underneath it. Once construction is complete, it will be difficult for trail hikers to find where the pipeline runs on both sides of the path.

Many other human-constructed improvements affect such natural areas. Interstate 70 and many other highways intersect the Appalachian Trail. Other pipelines run under it. In some places, electric lines pass over it.

Morrisey and counterparts in other states are right: Supreme Court justices should permit construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline — with, of course, strict limits to protect places such as the Appalachian Trail.

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