A federal appeals court ruled Sept. 10 that PennEast Pipeline Co. cannot condemn government-owned lands to build part of its planned 116-mile natural gas pipeline across the Garden State/
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed an earlier district court ruling that had allowed PennEast to condemn about 40 parcels previously and permanently preserved, using state tax dollars, for recreational, conservation and/or agricultural uses. The Third Circuit held that under the Eleventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the State of New Jersey is immune from condemnation lawsuits by private parties, including pipeline companies.
PennEast had argued that the Natural Gas Act empowers private gas companies to use the federal government’s eminent domain authority to condemn property. The appeals court ruled otherwise, holding that “New Jersey’s sovereign immunity has not been abrogated by the NGA, nor has there been – as PennEast argues – a delegation of the federal government’s exemption from the State’s sovereign immunity.”
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, whose office argued case, hailed the court’s action. “We will not hesitate to stand up to private companies when their actions violate the law—or, in this case, the U.S. Constitution,” Grewal said in a prepared statement. “From the very beginning, we have made clear that the Eleventh Amendment prohibits private pipeline companies like PennEast from condemning state properties for private use, and we’re pleased that the Third Circuit agreed with our position.
“This is great news for New Jersey and the environment,” he added.