The United States Supreme Court sided with polluters by ruling in favor of the PennEast Pipeline Co. in a disappointing 5-4 decision that drew harsh words from environmental advocates.
The 116-mile PennEast pipeline is proposed to carry fossil fuels from Pennsylvania’s Luzerne County through Mercer County.
There is still pending litigation challenging the need for the project in the D.C. District court, and the New Jersey DEP will have a say whether or not the pipeline gets its needed environmental permits, so environmental activists say this fight is far from over because fossil fuels are not the answer.
In the top court, the state of New Jersey lost its battle with PennEast Pipeline Company, which insisted that its federal permit conferred the power of eminent domain and allowed it to overrule the state’s opposition to the pipeline’s construction.
The 5-4 decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, removes an obstacle in the construction of the planned $1 billion, 116-mile pipeline that would carry fracked gas from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, across the Delaware River and to Mercer County, New Jersey – crossing some lands owned by the state.
PennEast received a permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and argued that empowered it to seize lands through eminent domain under the Natural Gas Act.
The ruling will allow the company to access 49 parcels of state-protected land through condemnation proceedings.
Climate crisis opponents called the decision to allow a private company to trample state’s right to regulate environmental and economic conditions for a pipeline that is neither wanted nor necessary, "devastating."
"It is so disturbing that the profit making goals of a private pipeline corporation would be given greater respect and protection than the rights of states and people," Delaware Riverkeeper Network CEO Maya van Rossum said.
"The scope of the eminent domain authority should be revised by Congress," said Lisa McCormick, a New Jersey environmentalist. "We have a greater interest in stopping the harmful consequences of deadly climate change than in assuring the short-term profits of companies that are killing the planet’s ability to sustain life. It’s unfortunate that the top court is blind to this fact."
The pipeline faces additional legal hurdles before it can break ground, including a separate challenge to its FERC approval in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
It also has yet to secure necessary permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and the Delaware River Basin Commission.
PennEast has said it expects to put the first phase of the project in Pennsylvania in service in 2022 and complete the second phase from Pennsylvania to New Jersey in 2024.
Enbridge leads the pipeline consortium, which also includes South Jersey Industries, New Jersey Resources, Southern Co. and UGI Corp.