Biden puts focus on climate change, domestic priorities on flood damage trip

By Nandita Bose

HILLSBOROUGH TOWNSHIP, N.J. (Reuters) – President Joe Biden visited flood-damaged New Jersey on Tuesday to survey the upheaval caused by Hurricane Ida, putting a focus on climate change and domestic priorities after weeks of public attention on the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Biden promised federal aid and urged national unity during a trip to storm-hit Louisiana on Friday after Ida devastated parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast and unleashed even deadlier flooding in the Northeast.

On Tuesday, he will be briefed by local leaders in Hillsborough Township, New Jersey, and tour a neighborhood in Manville that was hit hard by the storm.

Later, he will visit a neighborhood in New York City’s Queens borough and deliver remarks there.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Biden would emphasize that one out of three Americans lives in counties that have been impacted by severe weather events in recent months.

“The average costs of extreme weather are getting bigger, and no one is immune from climate change,” Psaki said, referencing what Biden would address in his remarks.

The president’s flood damage trips revive a familiar role of consoler-in-chief, a shift from the time he has spent staunchly defending his decision to pull U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the deadly aftermath that ensued.

Although the Afghanistan issue is not behind him – the United States is still working to get Americans left in the country out, and resettling tens of thousands of evacuees – Biden is expected to focus in the coming days on a fight to protect women’s reproductive rights in the wake of a new Texas anti-abortion law, the end of extended unemployment benefits for many Americans, and new measures to fight COVID-19.

On Saturday, the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, he will visit the three sites where hijacked U.S. domestic planes crashed, and next week, he plans to visit California to boost Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom’s effort to stay in office amid a recall election.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said on Tuesday it would take “months more likely than weeks” to complete cleanup, repairs and rebuilding after his state was ravaged by flooding and a tornado from the remnants of Storm Ida. He told CNN that Biden, who has issued disaster declarations for six of the state’s counties, had been “pitch perfect” in his response to the storm’s destruction.

Dozens of people have died from the hurricane’s destruction and some states are still grappling with widespread power outages and water-filled homes.

Speaking briefly to reporters on Monday evening after a trip to his home state of Delaware, Biden declared that Tuesday would be a “big day.” The president has used the storm to highlight the need for infrastructure spending in a bill he is working to get through Congress.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose and Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Peter Szekely; Writing by Jeff Mason; Editing by Heather Timmons, Dan Grebler and Bernadette Baum)

NY, NJ governors say aid is coming as Ida death toll rises to 46

By Maria Caspani and Julia Harte

(Reuters) – The governors of New York and New Jersey said on Friday they expected to receive significant funding and assistance from the federal government after flash flooding from Hurricane Ida left a trail of destruction, killing at least 46 in the Northeast.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced $10 million in state grants to help small businesses that suffered damage and flagged expected federal aid after U.S. President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for the state.

“This was a deadly and dangerous storm and we continue to face its after-effects,” Murphy told a news conference in Millburn, a suburban town west of Newark that was hit hard by flooding. “Help is coming.”

Murphy said there had been 25 fatalities in the state, up 2 from Thursday, and that at least 6 people remain missing. A total of 16 people have been confirmed dead in New York state.

Officials have also confirmed four deaths in Pennsylvania and the death of a state trooper in Connecticut.

In a separate briefing, New York Governor Kathy Hochul also said federal assistance was on the way after Biden approved her request to declare a federal emergency.

Like several other leaders in New Jersey and New York, Hochul stressed the need for better preparation for extreme weather events, which are increasing in frequency due to climate change.

Hochul said she would convene a task force that will submit an after-action report discussing shortcomings in New York’s response to Ida and suggest improvements.

“Some people have called this a 500-year event. I don’t buy it,” she said. “No longer will we say, that won’t happen again in our lifetime. This could literally happen next week.”

Biden was scheduled to travel to Louisiana on Friday to meet with Governor John Bel Edwards and survey damage wrought by Ida, which left residents there scrambling for water, food and basic services, with more than 800,000 households still without power.

The hurricane, which made landfall in Louisiana on Sunday, may ultimately claim more lives in the Northeast, where flash flooding caught residents off guard, causing some to perish in their basements and others to drown in their cars.

(reporting by Maria Caspani in New York, Julia Harte in Washington and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut)

Biden to visit Louisiana to see Hurricane Ida damage, New Jersey death toll rises

By Steve Holland and Devika Krishna Kumar

WASHINGTON/NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden travels to Louisiana on Friday to get a first-hand look at the destruction wrought by Hurricane Ida, the monster storm that devastated the southern portion of the state and left 1 million people without power.

Biden is to meet Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and local officials about the hurricane, which is providing the president with a tough test just after the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

Hurricane Ida struck the Gulf coast last weekend and carved a northern path through the eastern United States, culminating in torrential rains and widespread flooding in New York, New Jersey and surrounding areas on Wednesday.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on Friday said the state had confirmed an additional two deaths overnight, bringing its total to 25. He said at least six people were still missing, meaning the death toll would likely climb higher.

“We’re still not out of the woods,” he told NBC News’ “Today” program, adding that his biggest concern following the wreckage was grappling with remaining high waters and damage. “We’re going to clean up … but it may be a long road.”

The fifth most powerful hurricane to strike the United States came ashore in southern Louisiana on Sunday, knocking out power for more than a million customers and water for another 600,000 people, creating miserable conditions for the afflicted, who were also enduring suffocating heat and humidity.

At least nine deaths were reported in Louisiana, with at least another 46 killed in the Northeast.

“My message to everyone affected is: ‘We’re all in this together. The nation is here to help,'” Biden said on Thursday.

Biden will tour a neighborhood in LaPlace, a small community about 35 miles west of New Orleans that was devastated by flooding, downed trees and other storm damage, and deliver remarks about his administration’s response.

He will take an aerial tour of hard hit communities, including Laffite, Grand Isle, Port Fourchon and Lafourche Parish, before meeting with local leaders in Galliano, Louisiana, the White House said.

Officials who have flown over the storm damage reported astounding scenes of small towns turned into piles of matchsticks and massive vessels hurled about by the wind.

Edwards said he would present Biden with a long list of needs including fuel shipments as most of the area’s refining capacity was knocked offline and mile-long lines have formed at gas stations and emergency supply distribution centers.

At Biden’s direction, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm on Thursday authorized an exchange of 1.5 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to Exxon Mobil to relieve fuel disruptions in the wake of the hurricane.

Several refineries remained cut off from crude and products supplies from the south via ship and barge after portions of the Mississippi River were closed by several sunken vessels.

“This is the first such exchange from the SPR in four years and demonstrates that the president will use every authority available to him to support effective response and recovery activities in the region,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said late on Thursday.

Biden has also urged private insurance companies to pay homeowners who left in advance of the storm but not necessarily under a mandatory evacuation order.

“Don’t hide behind the fine print and technicality. Do your job. Keep your commitments to your communities that you insure. Do the right thing and pay your policy holders what you owe them to cover the cost of temporary housing in the midst of a natural disaster. Help those in need,” he said.

While Louisiana tried to recover from the storm, the New York area was still dealing with crippling floods from Ida.

People across large swaths of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut spent Thursday coping with water-logged basements, power outages, damaged roofs and calls for help from friends and relatives stranded by flooding.

At least 16 have died in the state of New York, officials said, including 13 in New York City where deaths of people trapped in flooded basements highlighted the risk of increasingly extreme weather events.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told MSNBC on Friday that there would be a need to implement travel bans and evacuations more frequently ahead of storms. He said he was putting together a new task force to tackle the issue.

“We’ve got to change the whole way of thinking” in how to prepare for storms, de Blasio said. “We’re going to need them to do things differently.”

Biden approved an emergency declaration in New Jersey and New York and ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local response efforts, the White House said late on Thursday.

(Reporting By Steve Holland and Devika Krishna Kumar; additional reporting by Andrea Shalal, Kanishka Singh and Susan Heavey, editing by Ross Colvin, Michael Perry and Steve Orlofsky)

‘Historic’ New York-area flooding in Ida’s wake leaves at least 14 dead

By Barbara Goldberg and Maria Caspani

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Flooding killed at least 14 people, swept away cars, submerged subway lines and temporarily grounded flights in New York and New Jersey as the remnants of Hurricane Ida brought torrential rains to the area.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told a Thursday news conference there were nine confirmed fatalities in New York caused by what he had described as a “historic weather event.”

Countless rescues were made overnight of motorists and subway riders who became stranded in the flood waters, de Blasio said. “So many lives were saved because of the fast, courageous, response of our first responders,” he said.

Images posted on social media overnight showed water gushing over subway platforms and people wading through knee-deep water in their buildings.

Streets turned to rivers as flooding swept away cars in videos captured by stunned residents.

Four residents of Elizabeth, a city in New Jersey, perished in flooding at Oakwood Plaza, a public housing complex that was “flooded out with eight feet of water,” city spokesperson Kelly Martins told Reuters.

“Sadly, more than a few folks have passed as a result of this,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said without elaborating on the death toll at a briefing in Mullica Hill in the southern part of the state where a tornado had ripped apart several homes.

The hit to the Middle Atlantic region came three days after Ida, one of the most powerful hurricanes to strike the U.S. Gulf Coast, devastated southern Louisiana. Reconnaissance flights revealed entire communities destroyed by wind and floods.

Ida’s remnants brought six to eight inches (15 to 20 cm) of rain to a swath of the Northeast from Philadelphia to Connecticut and set an hourly record of 3.15 inches for Manhattan, breaking the previous one that was set less than two weeks ago, the National Weather Service said.

The 7.13 inches of rain that fell in New York City on Wednesday was the city’s fifth highest daily amount, it said.

The number of disasters, such as floods and heat waves, driven by climate change has increased fivefold over the past 50 years, according to a report released earlier this week by The World Meteorological Organization, a U.N. agency.

One person died in Passaic, New Jersey, due to the flooding and the search continued for others, the city’s mayor, Hector Lora, said in a video posted to Facebook on Thursday.

“We are presently still making efforts to identify and try to locate other individuals that have not been accounted for,” Lora said.

NBC New York reported at least 23 fatalities, including a toddler and said that most “if not all” deaths were flood-related.

The governors of New York and New Jersey, who had declared emergencies in their states on Wednesday, urged residents to stay home as crews worked to clear roadways and restore service to New York City subways and commuter rail lines serving millions of residents.

“Right now my street looks more like a lake,” said Lucinda Mercer, 64, as she peered out her apartment window in Hoboken, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York.

Mercer, who works as a crisis line fundraiser, said flood waters were lapping halfway up the hub caps of parked cars.

Subway service in New York City remained “extremely limited” while there was no service at all on commuter rail lines to the city’s northern suburbs on Thursday morning, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) said. Janno Lieber, the MTA’s acting chair and CEO, told local media it was going to take until later in the day to restore full service.

The Long Island Railroad, which is also run by the MTA, said early on Thursday that services on most of its branches had been restored but commuters should expect systemwide delays of up to 30 minutes.

‘HUMBLED BY MOTHER NATURE’

Michael Wildes, mayor of Englewood, a city in New Jersey located just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, said the city’s central business district was under water and some residents had to be evacuated to the library overnight.

“We are being humbled by mother nature in this last year and a half,” Wildes told Reuters by phone.

He said there were no known deaths in Englewood, although police, fire and other emergency responders had extracted several people trapped in their cars.

Mark Haley of Summit, New Jersey, said getting back home after a 15-minute drive to a bowling alley to celebrate his daughter’s sixth birthday on Wednesday night became a six-hour slog through flood waters that often left him trapped.

“When we got out, it was a war zone,” said Haley, 50, a fitness trainer, who got home to find almost two feet (0.6 m) of water in his basement.

All New Jersey Transit rail services apart from the Atlantic City Rail Line were suspended, the service said on its website.

Amtrak said on Thursday morning that it canceled all passenger rail service between Philadelphia and Boston.

New Jersey’s Newark Liberty Airport warned about flight disruptions and said about 370 flights were canceled as of Thursday morning.

More than 200,000 electricity customers were without power early on Thursday in five northeastern states that got most of the rains overnight, mostly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to PowerOutage.US, which gathers data from utility companies. There were also outages in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts, it said.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru, Maria Caspani and Peter Szekely in New York, Barbara Goldberg in Maplewood, New Jersey, and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey in Washington, Ann Maria Shibu and Akriti Sharma in Bengaluru and Sarah Morland in Gdansk; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Shri Navaratnam, Hugh Lawson, Frances Kerry and Steve Orlofsky)

New Jersey to require masks in schools as Delta variant spreads

By Maria Caspani

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Kindergarten through 12th-grade students and staff in New Jersey will be required to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status when public schools open in the fall, Governor Phil Murphy said on Friday, reversing his earlier position as the Delta variant of coronavirus spreads.

The change in guidance from just over a month ago reflects a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations spurred by the highly contagious variant, Murphy told a news conference.

“There are issues that are and must always remain above politics, and this is one of them,” said Murphy, a Democrat who is the only incumbent U.S. governor up for re-election this fall.

Debate around masks in U.S. schools reignited last month when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed course and recommended that all students and staff wear masks in school regardless of vaccination status.

A patchwork of policies has emerged from state to state, and even town to town, around the issue that has become deeply political in the United States.

In New Jersey, COVID-19 cases rose 105% over the past two weeks, according to a Reuters analysis of public health data. Hospitalizations have spiked 92% in the past four weeks, the data shows.

About 67% of New Jersey residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. U.S. vaccination rates vary widely from a high of 76% of Vermont residents receiving a first dose to a low of 41% in Mississippi.

States with lower vaccination rates have been hardest hit by the fast-spreading variant.

Florida, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi account for half of the country’s new cases and hospitalizations in the last week, White House officials said.

‘MORAL OUTRAGE’

In Florida, the Board of Education on Friday adopted an emergency rule that would allow parents to transfer their child to another school “when a student is subjected to harassment in response to a school district’s COVID-19 mitigation protocols,” including mask protocols.

The newly-approved rule lets parents transfer their kids to a private school or a school in another district under the Hope scholarship, funding that was originally created to allow Florida public school pupils who are victims of bulling to move to a different institution.

During the emergency meeting, one parent called the rule a “moral outrage” that equated a school’s mask mandate to harassment and bullying.

Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, issued an executive order last week blocking mask mandates in the state’s schools.

There were 13,427 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the Sunshine State as of Friday morning, a fresh record high, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Some Florida school districts are keeping mask mandates in place, at least for now, despite the governor’s executive order.

The Broward County Public School Board will meet on Tuesday to decide how to move forward following DeSantis’ order.

Rosalind Osgood, the board’s chairwoman, said she planned to vote to require masks for students and school staff in the county, telling CNN on Friday: “I’m not willing to take a risk with somebody’s life when we have a deadly pandemic.”

Some of the nation’s largest school districts including New York and Los Angeles have made masks mandatory for the upcoming school year.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and Anurag Maan in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Commission proposes $117 billion to remake U.S. train corridor, cut travel times

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. government commission on Wednesday proposed a $117 billion plan to remake the Northeast Corridor – the Boston-to-Washington train route that is the nation’s busiest – by 2035, potentially cutting travel times and boosting capacity.

The route, which runs through major Northeastern cities including New York and Philadelphia, carried about 800,000 passengers a day before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Northeast Corridor Commission said in a statement.

Advocates argue the plan can help take more private cars off clogged American roads and eliminate some airplane trips, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

The commission – comprised of state, federal and Amtrak national passenger rail officials – said it had only identified $17 billion of the funding needed. It said the $100 billion in unmet costs would be shared between the federal government and states the route runs through.

The panel, created by Congress, said Northeastern state governments, the federal government, eight commuter rail agencies, and Amtrak worked “to develop a detailed and efficient sequencing of infrastructure investments covering 150 projects.”

The improvements would include repairs or upgrades to rail track, tunnels, bridges and stations and allow for a big jump in train service.

Much of the infrastructure along the heavily used corridor is aging and needs replacement. The crucial 111-year-old Hudson Tunnel, also known as the North River Tunnel, connecting New York and New Jersey, was damaged in 2012 during Superstorm Sandy.

By 2035, the proposed work would cut nearly half an hour from an average trip of nearly three hours on high-speed Acela trains from Washington to New York and from a little over 3-1/2 hours from New York to Boston. Amtrak also runs slower Northeast Regional trains along the corridor with lower-cost tickets.

The upgrades along the 457-mile (735-km) Northeast Corridor would allow trains to travel at 160 miles per hour (258 km) on 132 miles, up from the current 32 route miles (52 km) that can travel at 150 mph (240 kph).

The plan “supports new travel patterns as our economy returns to full strength,” said Amit Bose, deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration and commission co-chair.

President Joe Biden – once dubbed “Amtrak Joe” for his custom of commuting from his home state of Delaware to Washington by train – has called for $80 billion in new spending on high-speed rail projects across the United States.

A bipartisan infrastructure deal being considered by Congress calls for $66 billion for passenger and freight rail to repair and expand existing rail networks, including the corridor.

Amtrak in April asked for $31 billion from Congress over five years to overhaul the Northeast Corridor.

Amtrak wants to expand across the country and by 2035 add as many as 39 new corridor routes and 166 cities.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. Supreme Court backs pipeline companies in New Jersey land dispute

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)

U.S. weekly deaths from COVID fall to lowest in 14 months

(Reuters) – U.S. deaths from COVID-19 last week fell to their lowest in nearly 14 months and the number of new cases continued to decline for a fifth week in a row, according to a Reuters analysis of state and county data.

Deaths for the week ended May 16 totaled 4,165, the lowest weekly death toll since March 2020, when the country reported 2,293 deaths. On average about 600 people died from COVID each day, down from a peak of over 3,000 deaths per day for most of January.

About 37% of the country’s population has been fully vaccinated as of Sunday, and 47% has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New Hampshire leads the country with 85% of its residents receiving at least one dose, followed by Vermont at 65% and Massachusetts at 62%.

The rate of vaccinations, however, has been slowing for four straight weeks. In the past seven days, an average of 2 million vaccine doses were administered per day, which is down 2% from the previous week after falling 17% in the prior week.

New cases of COVID-19 fell 20% last week to 233,000, the lowest since June, according to the Reuters analysis. Only four out of 50 states logged week-over-week increases in new cases, including Alabama which reported over 9,000 new infections last week after processing a backlog of tests.

Excluding that backlog, Colorado led the nation in new cases per capita, overtaking Michigan, although new infections are falling in both states.

The lowest rates of infection based on population were in New Jersey, Oklahoma and California.

Nationwide, the average number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals fell 12%, the fourth weekly drop in a row.

(Graphic by Chris Canipe, writing by Lisa Shumaker, editing by Tiffany Wu)

Most capacity limits to end in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut on May 19

(Reuters) -Most coronavirus capacity restrictions on businesses in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey, including retail stores, food services and gyms, will end on May 19, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday.

Cuomo said a steady decline in the positive rate of COVID-19 tests and hospitalizations across the state showed it was time to begin the reopening process. The percentage of New Yorkers testing positive for the coronavirus dropped 50% over the last month, and hospitalizations decreased by 37% during the same period, he told a news conference.

“New Yorkers have made tremendous progress,” Cuomo said. “It’s time to readjust the decision made on the science and on the data.”

Other businesses that will no longer be subject to state-imposed capacity restrictions are amusement parks, salons and offices. The governor also announced that the New York City subway will resume its 24-hour service beginning on May 17.

All businesses can still set their own capacity restrictions.

Certain protocols such as maintaining six feet of space between people will remain in place, Cuomo said, in line with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. Exceptions can be made at venues where people will have shown proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test, he said.

The May 19 reopening preempts the plan New York Mayor Bill de Blasio outlined just days ago to re-open his city fully on July 1. De Blasio said on Thursday that his city could soon return to normal thanks to the progress of the vaccine rollout, noting 6.4 million doses of vaccine have been administered in the city of more than 8 million residents.

New York’s move comes just over a year after businesses across the state closed down and limited capacity to combat one of the country’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks. It follows updated guidance released by the CDC last week, which said people do not need to wear masks outdoors where social distancing is possible.

Florida Governor Ron Desantis on Monday also announced he was signing an executive order that overruled and suspended all local COVID-19 emergency orders, saying that widespread vaccination made it safe to do so.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Evans)

U.S. Supreme Court tackles pipeline company’s bid to seize New Jersey land

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday wrestled with a bid by a group of energy companies seeking to seize land owned by New Jersey to build a $1 billion natural gas pipeline, as the state argues that its rights would be trampled.

The justices heard arguments in an appeal by PennEast Pipeline Company LLC, a joint venture backed by energy companies including Enbridge Inc., of a lower court ruling in favor of New Jersey’s government, which opposes the land seizure.

Other companies in the consortium for the 116-mile (187-km) pipeline from Pennsylvania to New Jersey include South Jersey Industries Inc, New Jersey Resources Corp (NJR), Southern Co and UGI Corp.

At issue in the case is 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). It effectively gives private companies the power of eminent domain, in which government entities can take property in return for compensation.

A ruling in favor of New Jersey would weaken the Natural Gas Act by allowing states to object to any attempts to seize their land.

Although some justices appeared sympathetic to the state’s legal arguments, they also seemed cautious about issuing a ruling that would overturn the longstanding understanding of the law and potentially imperil the PennEast project and others like it.

Chief Justice John Roberts said that it is “quite extraordinary” that private entities have the power normally vested in the federal government to go to court to seize a state’s land. But Roberts also noted that New Jersey opposes the project, meaning that if it does win the case there would be a “significant practical problem.”

Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out that the Natural Gas Act was enacted precisely because states had objected to pipelines being built.

“That’s been the understanding for the last 80 years,” Breyer said in reference to the current process.

PennEast’s lawyer, Paul Clement, said the project would be “at the mercy of New Jersey” if the pipeline loses the case because there is no way to re-route it without the state’s involvement.

One way the court could avoid some of the knotty legal issues would be to embrace an argument raised by the Clement that the eminent domain action was technically brought against the land in question and not against the state.

Some justices suggested the legal problem could be resolved by the federal government joining the pipeline’s lawsuit. President Joe Biden’s administration backs PennEast in the case.

FERC in 2018 approved PennEast’s request to build the pipeline. The company then sued to gain access to properties along the route.

New Jersey did not consent to PennEast’s seizure of properties the state owns or in which it has an interest. The state cites the U.S. Constitution’s 11th Amendment, which bars courts from hearing certain lawsuits against states.

PennEast wants the land to build a pipeline designed to deliver 1.1 billion cubic feet per day of gas – enough to supply about 5 million homes – from the Marcellus shale formation in Pennsylvania to customers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

After a federal judge approved the property seizure, the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2019 that PennEast could not use federal eminent domain to condemn land controlled by the state. Also at issue in the case is whether the 3rd Circuit had jurisdiction to hear the appeal.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Will Dunham)