By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled in favor of a consortium of energy companies including Enbridge Inc seeking to seize land owned by New Jersey to build a $1 billion natural gas pipeline despite the state’s objections.
The justices in a 5-4 ruling handed a victory to PennEast Pipeline Company LLC, a joint venture seeking to build the 116-mile (187-km) pipeline from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. The justices overturned a lower court ruling in favor of New Jersey’s government.
Other companies joining Enbridge in the consortium include South Jersey Industries Inc, New Jersey Resources Corp (NJR), Southern Co and UGI Corp.
The court ruled that a 1938 U.S. law called the Natural Gas Act that lets private energy companies seize “necessary” parcels of land for a project if they have obtained a certificate from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) can be applied to state-owned land.
“Specifically, we are asked to decide whether the federal government can constitutionally confer on pipeline companies the authority to condemn necessary rights-of-way in which a state has an interest. We hold that it can,” conservative Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court.
The law effectively gives private companies the power of eminent domain, in which government entities can take property in return for compensation.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)