A decade of battles against pipelines proposed to crisscross the country are arriving at the Supreme Court.
Driving the news: The court ruled last week on the first such high-profile case. Two other actions, also on pipelines, are pending before the justices for decisions that could have far-reaching impacts.
The big picture: These court battles represent the culmination of fights over fossil fuel infrastructure of all kinds — beginning with the Keystone XL pipeline — as a proxy for a larger debate about climate change and energy.
- Over this same period, oil and natural gas production has boomed in the United States. Natural gas has become the dominant electricity source, driving a buildout of pipelines and power plants.
- Environmentalists, together with local government officials and other advocates, have been fighting these projects through courts and permitting processes in the absence of the federal government taking action on climate policy.
“The game for environment groups is fairly simple. Use every tool to drag the project into the courts, raise the cost as much as you can, hope for an economic downturn and hope the developer throws in the towel.” — Rob Rains, senior energy analyst, Washington Analysis
Where it stands: The three actions at issue turn on the fine print of different legal details, but they all deal with the same underlying debate about to what degree oil and natural gas pipelines should be constructed.
Quick take: Here’s my attempt to break down thousands of pages of legal arguments into fewer than 200 words...
- The Supreme Court ruled last week in favor of a 600-mile natural gas pipeline proposed to go under the Appalachian Trail in rural Virginia (many pipelines already do). That decision also removed a hurdle for another 300-mile pipeline and could prompt development on other ecologically important lands, environmentalists say.
- The Supreme Court will consider on Thursday whether it will grant or deny review, or seek the input of the Justice Department, on another pipeline case involving eminent domain and states’ constitutional rights. If the justices take it and reaffirm a lower court’s ruling, that could, in effect, give states veto power to block natural gas pipelines.
- The Supreme Court is also expected to decide in the coming weeks whether to grant the Trump administration’s request last week to stay a lower court’s ruling on the still-unresolved Keystone project, which also resulted in permitting delays of numerous other pipelines.
But, but, but: “What the industry is struggling with at this point is whether all of these projects are even needed anymore,” said Gary Kruse, managing director of research at LawIQ.
- Other than seasonal shortages in the Northeast, “most of the rest of the country is probably properly supplied with pipeline capacity right now,” Kruse said.