Federal appeals court rules against PennEast in fight over pipeline land

In a blow to PennEast and their hopes of building a 120-mile natural gas pipeline across New Jersey, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled today that the company cannot use eminent domain to take state-owned land along the route of the pipeline.

The decision reverses an earlier district court ruling that had allowed PennEast to condemn approximately 40 parcels of land that were preserved for various uses through state tax dollars.

“We will not hesitate to stand up to private companies when their actions violate the law — or, in this case, the US Constitution,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. “From the very beginning, we have made clear that the Eleventh Amendment prohibits private pipeline companies like PennEast from condemning state properties for private use, and we’re pleased that the Third Circuit agreed with our position. This is great news for New Jersey and the environment.”

PennEast had argued that the federal Natural Gas Act allowed it to condemn all needed land along the route of the proposed pipeline. The company wouldn’t say yet whether they plan to appeal this ruling, a move that would possibly put the case in front of the Supreme Court.

“We will review the Third Circuit’s opinion in detail and determine our next steps,” PennEast spokesperson Pat Kornick said in a statement. “PennEast remains committed to moving forward with the PennEast Pipeline Project to provide New Jersey and Pennsylvania residents and businesses increased access to clean, affordable natural gas.”

The project received federal approval, but has yet to gain final approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection who last week found PennEast’s permit application to be deficient for a second time. The company has 30 days from the announcement to rectify the omissions in their 24,000 page application.