TRENTON – In a major legal victory for the State and New Jersey's environment, a federal appeals court today ruled that PennEast, a private company, cannot condemn State-owned lands in order to build part of its planned 116-mile natural gas pipeline across New Jersey, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced.
Issued by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the decision reverses an earlier district court ruling that had allowed PennEast to condemn approximately 40 parcels previously and permanently preserved for recreational, conservation and/or agricultural uses through State tax dollars. Agreeing with New Jersey's arguments, the Third Circuit held that, under the Eleventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the State is immune from condemnation lawsuits by private parties, including pipeline companies. (Under the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity, the State cannot be sued by a private entity without its consent.)
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"We will not hesitate to stand up to private companies when their actions violate the law—or, in this case, the U.S. Constitution," said Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. "From the very beginning, we have made clear that the Eleventh Amendment prohibits private pipeline companies like PennEast from condemning state properties for private use, and we're pleased that the Third Circuit agreed with our position. This is great news for New Jersey and the environment."
In issuing its ruling, the Third Circuit held that the federal Natural Gas Act – which PennEast argued allowed it to condemn all needed properties along the path of its proposed pipeline – does not overcome New Jersey's sovereign immunity under the Constitution.
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