New Jersey AG opposes eminent domain for PennEast natgas pipeline

(Reuters) - New Jersey’s attorney general on Friday asked a U.S. District Court in the state to reject a request by PennEast Pipeline Co to condemn state property interests in preserved land for its proposed natural gas pipeline.

PennEast needs the land to build its roughly $1 billion pipeline that will deliver gas from the Marcellus shale formation in Pennsylvania to customers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The state said in its court filing that PennEast’s condemnation actions should be dismissed because the court lacks jurisdiction over New Jersey.

If the court decides it has jurisdiction, the state said PennEast’s action should still be dismissed because the company “failed to even attempt to contract with the state in order to acquire the property interests.”

PennEast spokeswoman Pat Kornick said in an email that the company will refute the state’s claims.

“As has been the case for more than three years, PennEast will continue to work with New Jersey, including all its agencies and affiliates, to advance an important federal project that will benefit the residents and businesses of New Jersey,” Kornick said.

PennEast is seeking to seize 149 of the 211 properties in the path of the proposed pipeline in New Jersey. Out of the 149 properties, about 50 are preserved lands, more than 20 of which the state owns in whole or in part, according to a statement from conservation groups opposed to the project

“PennEast is asking the Court to put private interests over the public interest, but these non-profits and the State of New Jersey have spent significant funds preserving these lands for their critical environmental values, not to create a green path for a dirty pipeline,” Jennifer Danis, senior staff attorney at the Eastern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement.

The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved construction of an approximately 120-mile (190-km) PennEast pipeline in January.

Kornick of PennEast said the company still anticipates beginning construction this year. The company expects the project to enter service in 2019 after a seven-month construction phase.

The companies seeking to build the project include units of New Jersey Resources Corp (NJR), South Jersey Industries Inc (SJI), Southern Co, Enbridge Inc and UGI Corp.

The companies with contracts to use the project include units of NJR, SJI, Southern, Public Service Enterprise Group Inc and Consolidated Edison Inc

Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Susan Thomas