U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear PennEast pipeline case

Company wants to use eminent domain to secure state-owned lands for 116-mile natural gas pipeline

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal from the PennEast Pipeline Co., which is attempting to use eminent domain to take land in New Jersey for its 116-mile national gas pipeline.

The proposed 116-mile pipeline could carry as much as 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day from northern Pennsylvania into New Jersey. The company sued to gain access to more than 40 parcels of land that are owned by the state after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the pipeline project in 2018.

PennEast hopes to overturn a decision from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that blocks it from seizing New Jersey state lands.

Tony Cox, chair of the board of managers of the PennEast Pipeline Co., was obviously pleased with the announcement.

“Congress passed the Natural Gas Act specifically to avoid state and local vetoes of interstate projects found by federal regulators to be in the public need and benefit,” he said in a statement. “The misguided Third Circuit ruling in fall 2019 turned nearly 80 years of federal government interpretation and industry practice on their heads. In its written response before the U.S. Supreme Court last spring, the state of New Jersey even agreed that the U.S. Constitution allows the federal government to condemn state property and took issue only with whether it can delegate that authority to a private party.

“Eighteen business, labor and consumer advocacy organizations filing amicus briefs in support of the PennEast petition demonstrate the importance of reversing the Third Circuit decision. We remain hopeful that, after hearing full arguments this term, the U.S. Supreme Court will agree that the Third Circuit’s decision was profoundly wrong.”

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, in a tweet, said he is confident the lower court’s decision will stand.

“A private party like PennEast has no right to condemn state lands in court, and we look forward to pressing our arguments to #SCOTUS. When the Court reviews the merits of the case, we believe they will recognize what the Third Court did: That New Jersey must prevail.”

If the appeals court ruling is not overturned, PennEast may have to find a new route through New Jersey.

The decision to hear the case is a small victory for the industry, which has fallen out of favor with the change of administration in the White House. President Joe Biden canceled the Keystone XL Pipeline in the Midwest.

Gov. Phil Murphy has been opposed to the pipeline — he says he wants more clean energy projects — despite the fact that the pipeline has the support of one of the groups that is a key Murphy backer: unions.

Mark Longo, director, Engineers Labor-Employer Cooperative, cheered the decision.

“The Supreme Court is absolutely right to grant the petition of certiorari in the PennEast case,” he said. “The benefits of this sorely needed project are clear: It will provide New Jersey and the entire region with the clean, affordable energy we need to grow our economy. Our businesses and residents need low energy prices and a stable supply of clean natural gas to thrive and rebound from the economic toll of the pandemic, and PennEast is essential to accomplish that goal.

“Despite these benefits, the state of New Jersey has fought against this project to score political points. We hope the Court will recognize the importance of the PennEast pipeline for the region and allow it to move forward immediately.”

Ron Morano, the executive director of Affordable Energy for New Jersey, also applauded the announcement.

“While hearing this case is unequivocally the right decision, it’s a shame that the nation’s highest court must get involved in the first place to decide whether or not New Jersey’s residents can have access to clean, affordable energy,” he said. “The Supreme Court rightly recognizes the significance of the PennEast pipeline, which has profound implications on the ability of residents and businesses throughout the region to access clean and affordable energy. We hope that the Court will agree and reverse the Third Circuit’s misguided decision.”