Landowners sue FERC to stop eminent domain on pipelines
A lawsuit filed Tuesday in Washington D.C. federal district court on behalf of 57 landowners challenges the constitutionality of the eminent domain provisions of the Natural Gas Act, and seeks to end the unconstitutional and unconscionable process of taking citizens’ private property via eminent domain for a corporation’s profits — and not for “the public good” as the Constitution intended.
The lawsuit targets FERC’s encouragement of pipeline companies to negotiate easement agreements with landowners in advance of the agency’s issuance of a “certificate of need,” which results in “irretrievable commitment of resources” to a particular route prior to a formal decision, and absolves the Commission of its responsibility to actually determine whether a proposed project is needed.
“FERC’s policy of encouraging pre-certificate easement negotiations between impacted landowners and the pipeline impermissibly biases the outcome of the certificate approval process, because FERC views pipeline proposals more favorably when the company has acquired most of the easements by negotiation,” the lawsuit states. “In so doing, FERC emboldens private companies to abuse eminent domain rights by duping landowners into signing an easement agreement by threatening them with eminent domain powers that the company does not have, or by refusing to agree to any protective measures in advance of construction until the landowner agrees to sign an easement, often for constitutionally inadequate compensation.”
The lawsuit also specifically challenges FERC’s issuance of “conditioned certificates” — which authorize a taking of property rights that are not, and may never be, necessary to construct the proposed project; and “blanket certificates” — which inappropriately grant a private company eminent domain power coextensive with that of the state, and strip future aggrieved landowners of their rights to formal administrative procedures.
Under the current regulatory regime, landowners are left without a forum to challenge eminent domain abuses. Meanwhile, virtually anything goes — with certificates conferring eminent domain issued by FERC to pipelines that do not serve a public use, but instead, facilitate gas for export or create opportunities for pipelines to monopolize the market for input to gas and electricity utilities, to be distributed in markets controlled by the pipeline’s affiliates.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Bold Alliance, Friends of Nelson, 26 individual landowners on the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline route and 31 landowners on the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline route in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. Plaintiffs include 14 Nelson County landowners and others in Augusta and Bath Counties. Defendants include FERC, and, respectively, Atlantic Coast Pipeline backers Dominion Resources, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and AGL Resources; and Mountain Valley Pipeline backers EQT Midstream Partners, LP; NextEra US Gas Assets, LLC; Con Edison Transmission, Inc.; WGL Midstream; and RGC Midstream, LLC.