A group of property owners sued the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday to stop what they claim is “a government-sanctioned land grab” to benefit a private pipeline company.
In a federal complaint filed in Roanoke, Virginia, the property owners challenge the constitutional authority of the commission to grant eminent domain powers to private profit-seeking parties.
Once completed, the 303-mile Mountain Valley pipeline will transport natural gas from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia.
The commission says a grant of eminent domain is necessary for the project to cross the Greenbrier River, but the homeowners claim little regard is being given to their rights and their investments in their properties.
The dispute has been brewing since 2014, when NextEra Energy announced its plans to build pipeline.
A few months later, Dominion Energy teamed up with Duke Energy and announced its own plans to construct another pipeline, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, nearby.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, at 550 miles long, will connect the Marcellus and Utica shale formations from Harrison County, West Virginia to a depot in Robeson County, North Carolina.
The property owners contend there simply isn’t call for both.
“Recent economic studies conclude … that the pipeline capacity being proposed exceeds the amount of natural gas likely to be produced from the Marcellus and Utica formations over the lifetime of the pipelines,” the complaint says. “Likewise, economists have concluded that ‘the supply capacity of the Virginia-Carolina region’s existing natural gas infrastructure is more than sufficient to meet expected future peak demand.’”
While the commission has the power to authorize the taking of private property under the National Gas Act, the plaintiffs claim that in this case, the government is guilty of overreach and is violating their constitutional rights for the sake of a commercial enterprise.
“FERC should no longer be permitted to exceed its unlawfully delegated authority or to apply an unconstitutional standard in determining when a private corporation should be permitted to take private property for private gain,” the complaint says. “The Commission’s interpretation and application of the Natural Gas Act’s eminent domain provisions are facially unconstitutional… as applied to the [Mountain Valley Pipeline] project.”
They are asking the court to enjoin the commission from acting on its “fundamentally flawed policy for assessing public use [and] purpose in contravention of the Fifth Amendment.”
The plaintiffs are represented by Justin Lugar of the firm Gentry Locke in Roanoke.
A spokeswoman for the commission and the pipeline said they would not comment on pending litigation.
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