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Oversight Subcommittee Launches Investigation into Use of Eminent Domain by Energy Companies

Feb 19, 2020
Press Release

Washington, D.C. (Feb. 19, 2020)— Rep. Jamie Raskin, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) about the use of eminent domain in the construction of natural gas pipelines.  FERC routinely grants pipeline companies a “certificate of public convenience and necessity,” allowing them to take possession of private land under the right of eminent domain.  

“The Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment states:  ‘No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,’” wrote Chairman Raskin.  “The Subcommittee is concerned that FERC’s process for handling challenges to pipeline construction, and its allowance of some construction-related activity before all state requirements have been met, denies individual landowners a meaningful opportunity to be heard before irrevocable harm is done to their property.” 

“I fully support Chairman Raskin’s investigation into the FERC allowing private energy companies to assert eminent domain,” said Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney.  “FERC may be prioritizing the desires of energy companies over the constitutional rights of hard-working Americans, potentially causing irreparable harm to their private property.”

FERC often grants certificates before companies receive permits from other federal and state agencies that are necessary for pipeline construction.  Federal courts routinely grant preliminary injunctions that give companies immediate possession to rights-of-way across private land, long before construction begins.

“Though construction cannot begin until companies receive all their permits, FERC authorizes these companies to start preparing the rights-of-way through non-mechanized tree felling and other preparatory activities,” continued Chairman Raskin.  “One particularly egregious example of this was the destruction of half of the 200 year-old trees that made up a maple syrup farm in New Milford Township in March 2016 for the Constitution pipeline, which still has yet to be built.”

Landowners are effectively barred from challenging these injunctions, because they must first exhaust their administrative remedies by appealing to FERC.  Even though a resolution to the appeal within 30 days is mandated, FERC reportedly reflexively grants “tolling orders” to extend the appeal review time by months.  While landowners await FERC’s review, FERC has issued orders authorizing pipeline construction to begin.

The letter requested documents and information related to this investigation by March 3, 2020.

Click here to read today’s letter.

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116th Congress