Earlier this week, the PennEast Pipeline Company scrapped plans to use a prominent estate to take state-owned land in New Jersey for the purpose of building a new interstate pipeline:
On Monday, September 20, the state of New Jersey wrote to the Third Circuit Court of the United States Court of Appeals stating that it had reached an agreement in principle with the PennEast pipeline company seeking to abandon the condemnation of 42 state lands for the construction of an interstate gas pipeline. The announcement follows PennEast taking the state of New Jersey to the United States Supreme Court to defend its right to condemn this state-preserved land for the public good.
“PennEast claims they are not giving up on the project, but actions speak louder than words, and this decision clearly suggests the polluting pipeline will not happen,” said Tom Gilbert, campaign manager, New Jersey Conservation Foundation and ReThink Energy NJ. “The news that PennEast will not go ahead in trying to condemn state lands to develop an unnecessary fossil gas pipeline is a huge and welcome development. We applaud the Murphy administration for successfully defending and preserving our public lands for future generations. “
The anticipated sentencing was the subject of an important June 5-4 Supreme Court ruling, in which the eminent domain power of the federal government prevailed over the sovereign immunity of the State, thereby empowering the federal government to delegate eminent domain power to individuals. companies in situations where they want to use it to seize property owned by state governments.
While PennEast won the case in the Supreme Court, they appear to have lost the larger political struggle on the pipeline. It is possible that they still find a way to move forward with the pipeline without using the eminent domain, or by condemning private lands. But the whole point of the effort to seize state property was precisely that the company was claiming that there was no other practical way to complete the project.
Whatever the fate of this particular project, the Supreme Court’s decision remains on the books, and the federal government can continue to use the power that the decision gives it. But, as PennEast has learned, seizing property from hostile state governments is a more difficult proposition than taking it from private owners. Most of the latter lack the political influence of the former, nor do they generally lack the resources for a protracted legal and political battle of the type that New Jersey has successfully waged in this case. .
Politics aside, I still think it was a terrible deal that both sides deserved to lose. Both the majority opinion of Chief Justice John Roberts and the main dissent of Amy Coney Barrett have very serious weaknesses. I’ve walked through a lot here.
Interestingly, the case crossed conventional ideological lines among the judges. The ruling divided the liberal and conservative blocs in court. Conservative Justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh joined the Chief Justice’s majority opinion, as did Liberals Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer. Conservatives Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett all disagreed, joined Liberal Elena Kagan.