PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC can move forward with building a $1 billion 116-mile natural gas pipeline from Pennsylvania to New Jersey after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 29 in favor of the joint venture.
In a 5-4 ruling, the justices overturned a lower court ruling that favored the State of New Jersey. The justices ruled that the Natural Gas Act enacted in 1938, which allows private energy companies to seize land for a project if they have obtained a certificate from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reflecting that the construction of a pipeline “is or will be required by the present or future public convenience and necessity,” can be applied to state-owned land.
The companies within the joint venture include Enbridge Inc., South Jersey Industries Inc., New Jersey Resources Corp., Southern Co. and UGI Corp.
“Eminent domain is the power of the government to take property for public use without the consent of the owner. It can be exercised either by public officials or by private parties to whom the power has been delegated. And it can be exercised either through the initiation of legal proceedings or simply by taking possession up front, with compensation to follow,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court.
“This case involves one of the ways the federal eminent domain power can be exercised: through legal proceedings initiated by private delegatees against state-owned property,” he wrote. “Specifically, we are asked to decide whether the Federal Government can constitutionally confer on pipeline companies the authority to condemn necessary rights-of way in which a State has an interest,” Roberts wrote. “We hold that it can.”
This case involves one of the ways the federal eminent domain power can be exercised: through legal proceedings initiated by private delegatees against state-owned property.
– Chief Justice John Roberts
The battle over the PennEast pipeline has been ongoing since 2014, when PennEast Pipeline Co. originally announced plans for the pipeline, which will ship Marcellus Shale gas from Northeast Pennsylvania across the Delaware River to New Jersey.
At the time, PennEast Pipeline Co. said the pipeline would provide natural gas service to 4.7 million homes, up to 1 billion cubic feet per day, which would offer consumer savings in lower energy and gas transportation costs.
In response to the ruling, Engineers Labor-Employer Cooperative Director Mark Longo said it justifies “all the effort put forth by the advocates for affordable and clean natural gas,” and that the EL-EC “look[s] forward to finally seeing this project move forward.”
Jeff Tittel, former director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, called the decision “a shame and a disappointment,” and said that despite the decision, the fight continues.
“Even though PennEast will be allowed to cut through state lands, they’ll still need to come to the NJDEP for permits on wetlands and water quality. This pipeline will pollute our waterways, cutting through high-quality C1 streams. The 401 Water Quality Certificate is a permit under the Surface Water Quality Act to certify that a project won’t pollute the state’s waterways,” Tittel said. “Other states like New York, Connecticut, North Carolina, and Oregon have successfully stopped pipelines using the 401 Certificate. They stopped the Constitution Pipeline in New York and the Island East Pipeline in Connecticut, and both decisions were upheld in court.”