In a battle with New Jersey over land needed for a Natural Gas pipeline, the Supreme Court sided with a pipeline firm on Tuesday. The PennEast Pipeline Co. won 5-4 with the help of both liberal and conservative judges. The 116-mile pipeline will extend from Pennsylvania’s Luzerne County to New Jersey’s Mercer County. PennEast was granted a certificate of public convenience and necessity by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2018, allowing the project to proceed, but litigation ensued.
To obtain state-controlled property for its project, the business went to court with New Jersey. PennEast maintained that the commission’s approval of its project gave it the right to sue New Jersey and employ eminent domain to remove state-owned lands. The Supreme Court came to the same conclusion.When the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issues a certificate of public convenience and necessity, federal law allows the certificate holder to condemn all necessary rights-of-way, whether owned by private parties or states, according to Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority. Conservative justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh joined Roberts, as did liberal justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.
The top court’s ruling does not put an end to the pipeline’s legal battle. A rival pipeline challenge from New Jersey is also underway in a federal appeals court in Washington. During the case’s April arguments, a lawyer for the PennEast Pipeline Co. admitted that if the firm lost in the Supreme Court, the 120-mile pipeline would not be completed, at least not in its current form.
New Jersey, which opposes the pipeline project, contended that PennEast couldn’t sue the state to get the property because only the federal government may do it. The state maintained that the Natural Gas Act, a federal law, does not expressly authorize private litigation against states. While a lower court had ruled with PennEast, a federal appeals court sided with New Jersey.