Pipeline battle in New Jersey may be heading to the Supreme Court

Jacqueline Evans has been fighting for nearly six years to keep the 120 mile PennEast pipeline, which would stretch from Pennsylvania to Mercer County, off her property. She says it’s caused so much stress that she decided to rent her home and move until matters get resolved.

“I don’t want my children’s childhood to be defined by a pipeline fight, but it kind of already is,” she said. “It’s a lot. It’s my children’s home, their future,” Evans said.

The PennEast project is currently on pause after a third circuit of appeals’ decision regarding eminent domain.

“The third circuit ruled in favor of the state that PennEast, a private pipeline developer, can’t seize state lands in federal court. So that brought the project to a screeching halt because they lost authority to over 40 properties in New Jersey that the state either owned or had some interest in,” said Tom Gilbert, campaign director for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

PennEast has now petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case because it was given approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to “… exercise the federal government’s power of eminent domain to secure necessary rights-of-way for the construction of an interstate pipeline.”

Adding in a statement, “If left standing, the Third Circuit’s decision has the potential to increase energy costs to consumers, impede manufacturing and industrial projects, reduce high-paying labor jobs and deprive mineral rights owners of their ability to realize their property rights.”

The Supreme Court has called on the U.S. solicitor general to look into the case.

“The fate of my property and other people’s property is really weighing on that,” Evans said.

On a national level, two major pipeline projects have been delayed or killed this summer because of legal battles and costs.

Gilbert is hoping PennEast will throw in the towel as well. He worries about the risks to drinking water supplies and streams.

“There are many trends that make it look even less likely that this project will ever get approved. Especially in a state like New Jersey where we’re moving quickly to a clean energy future,” he said.

There are currently nine gas pipeline projects in the state whose plans are pending. They include Southern Reliability Link Pipeline, which hit a roadblock after a home was damaged during construction in June.

Homeowner Barbara Fox-Cooper says she had just a few minutes to grab her things when it happened because firefighters thought the home could collapse at any moment.

“Just being in the house with the noise of the foundation cracking, noises still startle me to this day,” Fox-Cooper, an Upper Freehold Township resident, said.

New Jersey Natural Gas says the incident is extremely rare and they take full responsibility. Adding, the goal of the project is to benefit the community.

In a statement, New Jersey Natural Gas said, “Right now, 85% of the supply serving those customers comes from just one interstate pipeline, which is a resiliency and reliability threat should that supply be interrupted for any reason, especially on the coldest days of the year.”

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is reviewing the case to see if they will allow the company to complete the project.

“One of my concerns is if the house can be repaired, I’m going to be back in the house and that drill is going to be back in the ground again and I wouldn’t want a repeat of that incident,” Fox-Cooper said.

That’s Evans’ biggest fear if PennEast wins its case.