This blog has observed the growing conflict between private land owners and pipeline companies over the companies’ right to use the law of eminent domain to acquire pipeline right-of-way. Now, a recent decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court may be a signal that the state’s eminent domain law cannot be used in that fashion.
The case in question involved underground natural gas storage, not a pipeline per se, but the court’s reasoning is encouraging pipeline opponents in their fight to limit the use of eminent domain by private companies. In 2012, Pennsylvania enacted what is known as Act 13, a statute that was intended to allow oil and gas companies to use the government’s power to acquire private property for their facilities. The statute has been under almost constant attack from local municipalities and environmental groups. One such case challenged the constitutionality of that portion of the act that allowed private companies to use eminent domain to acquire private land for underground natural gas storage.
In that case, the Supreme Court unanimously decided that the statute was unconstitutional because it allows private companies to obtain privately-owned land without conferring any public benefits on the state. This reasoning may well apply to much larger projects such as the Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East 2, a proposed pipeline that would cross the entire state. Many landowners have challenged the company’s right to use eminent domain to force landowners to sell land needed for pipeline right-of-way, and this decision is seen by many as a crucial victory for opponents of the pipeline companies.
The law of eminent domain in Pennsylvania appears to be undergoing significant changes. Anyone who owns land that might be subject to an eminent domain action may wish to seek advice from a lawyer who specializes in such cases. A knowledgeable attorney can provide an assessment of the law and an estimate of the amount of compensation that may be recovered if the proceeding goes forward.
Source: Inside Climate News, “Pennsylvania Ruling on Eminent Domain Puts Contentious Pipeline Project on Alert,” Zahra Hirji, Oct. 18, 2016