Jun 29, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Trump administration to weigh in on pipeline lawsuit

Hand pushing back against a pipeline.

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The Trump administration is expected to weigh in on a lawsuit in the next couple of months that questions the legality of eminent domain to build a natural-gas pipeline, following a request from the Supreme Court on Monday. The justices will then decide whether to review it.

The big picture: The dispute, over a 120-mile pipeline from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, is one of three high-court battles that represent the culmination of fights over fossil-fuel infrastructure of all kinds that have raged over the past decade as a proxy for a broader debate about climate change and energy.

The state of play: A federal appeals court ruled in September that the developers of the PennEast Pipeline couldn’t use federal law to seize land controlled by the state to build the project, citing the 11th Amendment protecting states’ rights.

  • The court said its conclusion could likely upend how interstate natural-gas pipelines have been built for 80 years. “But that is what the Eleventh Amendment demands,” the court wrote in its September 2019 decision.

The intrigue: This case turns conventional political wisdom upside down.

  • Conservatives would typically side with states’ rights, yet in this case, that would mean opposing a pipeline and business — which usually garner conservative support.
  • Liberals typically side with the federal government, but in this case, that means supporting a fossil-fuel project, something liberals are less inclined to do.
  • Experts say they expect the administration to be more likely to side with the pipeline and federal government, though the decision is still unknown.

The bottom line: The additional review will likely delay the high court’s consideration of the lawsuit — and thus the project itself — until at least next year.

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