gavel 3-11-19

Each fall, the Supreme Court selects a small number of cases to consider. At least four justices have to review and vote for a given case in order for it to make it onto the docket. This fall several pipeline-related cases have been appealed to the Supreme Court, and we will soon learn whether they will be heard. They include three eminent domain cases and a case about whether the Forest Service can authorize a pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail. It is the eminent domain cases that could have an impact on the Dragonpipe (Mariner East pipeline system) and subsequent pipelines.

One of the cases, East Tennessee Natural Gas v. Sage, involves whether pipeline construction can begin before payment for the land being taken by eminent domain is negotiated (so-called “quick take” eminent domain). In many states (including Pennsylvania) a public utility can begin the construction process once the paperwork for eminent domain has been filed. They don’t need to wait to settle with the landowner on an acceptable payment. But the landowner’s only leverage in that negotiation is lost if construction can commence with no deal in place. This is exactly the situation many Pennsylvania landowners along the Dragonpipe route have found themselves in. There needs to be a deal before construction starts, and that is what this suit seeks.

A second case involves a federal court decision that the company building the PennEast pipeline could not take state lands in New Jersey using eminent domain. This could have implications for Pennsylvania if the political tide here turns against pipelines. State game lands lie along many potential pipeline routes, and those lands are also a target for drilling and fracking.

A third case deals with a pipeline that crosses Ohio and Michigan on its way to Canadian refineries. Here, the issue is whether eminent domain can be used for a project to supply a foreign customer. The implications for Mariner East are obvious.

More details about each of these cases can be found in an article in E&E News.

If any of these cases does get considered by the Supreme Court, you can be sure I will be writing more about it.