PennEast announced last Thursday (November 14th) that it will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that said PennEast could not take the State of New Jersey into court to take possession of state land.
This move was anticipated. We expected PennEast to ask the Supreme Court to overturn the Third Circuit’s decision because otherwise it lacks options for moving forward with its pipeline project. In addition, PennEast has to show its investors and FERC that it is doing everything it can to get the project built. Otherwise, FERC would have grounds to withdraw its certificate.
Review is not automatic. No one knows whether the high court will hear this case. On average, the Supreme Court only takes 1 to 2% of the cases it is asked to review, and usually only takes cases where circuit courts have issued opposing opinions on the law. That is not the case here. PennEast will argue that it is in the national interest to build pipelines and the Third Circuit’s decision interferes with that national policy. New Jersey, on the other hand, will assert its sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This forbids private companies, like PennEast, from suing states unless the right has been waived by the state or by Congress.
If heard, what is the likely outcome? This move by PennEast will cause another extensive delay. If the Supreme Court were to take the case next spring, oral arguments would probably be scheduled in the fall of 2020, with a decision issued during the first half of 2021. No one can accurately predict what the Supreme Court would decide and when it will make that decision.
Steps in the meantime. HALT, and its members and allies, are aligning to support the State of New Jersey to ensure that our resources are made available and our voices heard. Remember, the pipeline cannot be built while the Supreme Court decides whether to take the case or unless it issues an order overturning the Third Circuit’s decision. If it does take the case, it would probably not issue a decision until the winter or spring of 2021. If it doesn’t take the case or doesn’t overturn the decision, PennEast may not be able to proceed.
We will keep you abreast of events as they unfold!