July 30, 2021

Supreme Court hands pipeline workers major win with NJ land seizure approval

A recent Supreme Court ruling that is a win for the gas and oil industry will go a long way toward preserving America’s energy independence. However, is it still a win if it comes at the cost of private property rights?

The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that New Jersey must yield to the PennEast company in allowing land to be seized to build a pipeline, the Washington Examiner reporter. The ruling was announced Tuesday and overturned a decision by a lower court.

The natural gas pipeline, which would run 116-miles from Pennsylvania to the Garden State, would supply 1 billion cubic feet of fuel per day. The issue at hand was whether PennEast could seize New Jersey land to be used for the $1 billion pipeline project.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had greenlighted the project and allowed the company to use federal eminent domain rules to obtain the land necessary to build it, Fox News reported. This broad power, issued under the National Gas Act, allows private energy companies to use the government to take the land.

New Jersey objected on the grounds of “sovereign immunity,” contending that a private company couldn’t sue a state over the issue. However, the Supreme Court sided with PennEast, a Delaware company, in the dispute allowing it to proceed with its land acquisition.

Notably, the spit decision did not follow the typical ideological lines. Democrat-appointed Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor sided with Republican-appointed colleagues including Justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh as well as Chief Justice John Roberts in the majority.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, penned the lead dissenting opinion. She was joined by Republican appointees Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas as well as solidly left-leaning Justice Elena Kagan. Barrett contended that the spirit of the National Gas Act was in interstate commerce but that it didn’t require states to surrender their own sovereign status.

The natural gas pipeline will surely be a boon for the energy industry and the customers it serves, allowing the clean-burning fuel to be easily transported into New Jersey. However, it’s troubling any time the federal government allows a company to seize land regardless of the reason. This duality is likely the reason justices were so split though it’s still an overall win at a time when the nation’s energy independence is under assault.

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