Federal appeals court stops PennEast in its tracks

Rules that the private company cannot condemn state-owned lands

For the past five years, New Jersey Conservation Foundation has been working with our partner organizations, affected homeowners and elected officials to oppose the proposed PennEast fracked gas pipeline. This unneeded project would cut through Hunterdon and Mercer counties, including thousands of acres of preserved open space and farmland, scores of pristine streams and critical wildlife habitat. PennEast sought to seize over 40 preserved lands through eminent domain, including several of our preserves. This week, a federal court struck a serious blow to the project's chances by blocking their efforts to seize state-preserved lands.  The decision will help protect state-preserved lands throughout New Jersey and the nation from seizure by private developers.

On Tuesday, Sept. 10, the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that PennEast, as a private company, lacked the legal authority to seize or condemn state-owned lands in federal court, in a case brought by N.J. Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on behalf of New Jersey.

The decision means that PennEast no longer has authority to condemn over 40 properties preserved by the state, many in partnership with counties, municipalities and private land trusts.

“This decision is a huge win for New Jersey taxpayers and everyone who stood up to PennEast by working hard to protect thousands of acres of preserved open space and farmland. The decision makes it clear that PennEast seriously overstepped the law by trying to condemn state-owned lands. It’s becoming increasingly unlikely that this project will ever be built,” said Tom Gilbert, campaign director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation and ReThink Energy NJ. “Our congratulations to Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on this groundbreaking decision.”

"In a carefully reasoned opinion, the Third Circuit found that PennEast cannot do an end-run around the Constitution. The Court's opinion, grounded in unbroken Supreme Court jurisprudence, honors the state's sovereign right to protect its conservation lands from a private pipeline company's attempt to seize them in court," said Jennifer Danis, staff attorney at Columbia University Law School's Environmental Law Clinic, representing New Jersey Conservation Foundation, a party to the Third Circuit litigation. 

To read the court decision, go to https://www.njconservation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/PennEast-Opinion-9.10.19.pdf.


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