Rep. Jamie Raskin, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, held a hearing to examine the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) failure to protect the rights of landowners whose properties are affected by natural gas projects, and followed up on the investigation and video report the Subcommittee released earlier this year.
FERC is the primary federal permitting agency for the construction and operation of all major interstate natural gas pipelines. Landowners face obstacles from FERC at every stage of the natural gas pipeline process: FERC rubberstamps natural gas projects without fair consideration to landowners, favors pipeline companies, and provides insufficient options for landowners to seek recourse against pipeline companies.
On February 19, 2020, the Subcommittee launched an investigation into the use of eminent domain in the construction of natural gas pipelines. FERC routinely grants pipeline companies “certificates of public convenience and necessity,” allowing them to take possession of private land under the right of eminent domain.
On April, 28, 2020, the Subcommittee released preliminary findings of the investigation revealing that the natural gas pipeline approval process used by FERC unjustly trampled on the rights of private landowners.
On June 11, 2020, following the Subcommittee’s investigation, FERC announced it would no longer authorize construction activities for natural gas pipelines until the agency acts on the merits of challenges from private landowners and other stakeholders.
On November 20, 2020, the Subcommittee expanded its investigation by requesting information about procedures used to resolve conflicts between landowners and energy companies.
This month, the Supreme Court announced it will take up the case of PennEast Pipeline Co. v. New Jersey. In September 2019, the Third Circuit determined that the PennEast Pipeline Co., as a private company, does not have the authority to use eminent domain to seize lands owned by the state of New Jersey.
The decision effectively blocked PennEast from a third of its planned route through New Jersey, crippling the project. The PennEast Pipeline Co. then petitioned for certiorari in the Supreme Court.
The law is clear, and the Eleventh Amendment protects New Jersey from seizures by private companies using eminent domain. The Supreme Court should uphold the Third Circuit ruling and protect states from federal overreach.