(CN) – Federal Energy Regulatory Commission officials unconstitutionally grant eminent domain for natural gas pipelines without a finding that they are in the public interest and before a proper environmental review, according to conservationists opposed to the PennEast pipeline.
New Jersey Conservation Foundation sued the commission in federal court on Wednesday, saying the agency is failing in its duty to keep pipeline developers in check and protect consumers and landowners from environmental threats.
The Eastern Environmental Law Center, Columbian Environmental Law Clinic and Morningside Heights Legal Service filed the lawsuit on the group’s behalf.
The commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday evening.
The foundation owns a two lots in New Jersey’s Hunterdon County that are part of the proposed route for the pipeline, according to the complaint. One-third of the pipeline's route is in New Jersey, and the group says its property is subject to eminent domain once the commission certifies the pipeline.
The 120-mile underground pipeline project could end public access to the group’s land, which it says is used by hikers, bikers, biking, bird watchers and fishermen.
According to the group, the commission grants Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity to the pipeline developers in violation of the Taking Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The agency authorizes a taking under eminent domain before receiving an environmental review from regulators, and without a determination that projects are in the best interest of consumers and landowners, the foundation says.
“FERC’s practices have many victims: ratepayers, landowners, and the environment. FERC’s disregard for the Constitution allows companies to take land that FERC has not ensured is necessary for a pipeline project that may not have the requisite public use,” the lawsuit states.
A pipeline project may never see the light of day, but landowners still lose their property to private developers, the foundation adds.
The proposed PennEast pipeline will start in northeastern Pennsylvania and end close to Pennington, Mercer County, New Jersey, according to the PennEast website. If completed, it will deliver close to 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day – enough to serve 4.7 million homes. The developers say the project will save money and cut transportation costs.
Construction is expected to begin next year or in 2019.
While the developer is touting its benefits, The New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel says the state can meet its energy demands without the pipeline and that the proposed project is not a good deal for ratepayers when they get 100 percent of their gas from legacy pipelines.
The foundation wants a ruling that the commission’s practices of granting Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity without public-use and environmental analyses from regulatory agencies violates the Fifth Amendment.
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