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Environment & Energy Report

Supreme Court Turns Down Property Owners’ Bid to Stop Pipeline

Oct. 7, 2019, 1:33 PM

The Supreme Court won’t get involved in a case pitting property rights advocates against the natural gas industry.

The justices on Oct. 7 denied a petition from Virginia landowners who challenged a developer’s seizure of private property to build the Mountain Valley pipeline, a 303-mile project set to cross West Virginia and Virginia.

At issue in the case was whether pipeline builders had authority to use an eminent domain process called “quick take” to acquire land before paying for it. Energy lawyers and property rights advocates viewed it as an important test of the limits of developers’ ability to take land for pipelines.

Landowners argued that the process violated the Natural Gas Act, which controls how developers use the eminent domain authority they receive from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The statute allows pipeline builders to take land only after they pay for it, attorneys for the landowners told the court.

Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC lawyers countered that quick-take actions—which are approved by federal judges—fall squarely within federal courts’ traditional powers, and the Natural Gas Act doesn’t strip them of that authority. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit sided with the pipeline company in February 2019.

The pipeline is jointly backed by EQM Midstream Partners LP, NextEra US Gas Assets LLC, Con Edison Transmission Inc., WGL Midstream, and RGC Midstream LLC.

The project is still under construction. Some work has been postponed by other litigation, including over the pipeline’s impact on endangered species.

The Supreme Court on Oct. 4 agreed to review a separate pipeline case on whether the U.S. Forest Service exceeded its authority in approving an Appalachian Trail crossing for the Atlantic Coast pipeline, whose route stretches from West Virginia to North Carolina. A ruling in that case could affect Mountain Valley.

The case is Givens v. Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC, U.S., No. 19-54, cert. denied 10/7/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at egilmer@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergenvironment.com; Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloombergenvironment.com