AG Shapiro Once Again Goes to Bat for Property Owners in Pipeline Disputes

January 22, 2020 | Topic: Consumers

HARRISBURG – Attorney General Josh Shapiro is taking legal action in defense of landowners, including plaintiffs from Lancaster County, who are challenging a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission practice that routinely allows construction to proceed on FERC-approved pipelines before challengers can appeal these decisions in court. The Attorney General signed on to an amicus brief with a coalition of 11 Attorneys General in Allegheny Defense Project v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

In the brief, Shapiro and the Attorneys General argue that denying landowners and others their day in court before pipeline construction commences is a violation of the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Once FERC approves a pipeline, the pipeline company can immediately exercise eminent domain and take land for construction while the pipeline’s opponents must file a request for rehearing with FERC before appealing to a federal court.

In the Lancaster County case, two homeowners protested a pipeline company’s (Transco) application to construct a pipeline in the middle of their land. After FERC issued a certificate to Transco, the company began eminent domain proceedings and was soon granted court permission to proceed.

“FERC has twisted the law to leave property owners in legal limbo while pipeline operators begin construction through their backyards,” AG Shapiro said. “I’m glad a court is finally willing to examine this inherently unfair practice.”

FERC is supposed to act on requests within 30 days, but in almost every case, it grants itself additional time with a “tolling order” on the rehearing request, and then takes many months to rule. As a result, construction often proceeds for months before any challenges are heard in court. The amicus argues FERC’s practice also hampers states’ efforts to appeal FERC orders that affect state clean energy policies or state decisions to allow pipeline crossings.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld FERC’s procedure in an August decision, holding that it was bound by the full court’s precedents. However, the court since voted to rehear the case en banc and reconsider its prior decisions.

In addition to AG Shapiro, the Attorneys General from Maryland, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia have signed the amicus.

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