D.C. lawyer helping New Jersey residents fight gas pipeline speaks in Back Mountain

By Steve Mocarsky - smocarsky@timesleader.com



By Steve Mocarsky




DALLAS — A lawyer with a Washington, D.C.-based law firm representing a New Jersey residents group organized to stop the PennEast Natural Gas Pipeline spoke on Tuesday to a local group with the same goal.

Attorney Steven Richardson, a partner with Wiley Rein, addressed members of the Back Mountain-based Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition about his work to assist HALT PennEast (Homeowners Against Land Taking) in its fight against the the pipeline.

PennEast wants to construct a 36-inch diameter, 118-mile natural gas pipeline starting in Dallas Township and extending to Hopewell Township, New Jersey. The company applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to acquire the private property through which the pipeline would traverse.

Richardson said the firm is interested in this pipeline fight because “a private company using eminent domain to take people’s land offers a lot of legal questions that are not fully settled in the law.”

“Contrary to PennEast’s public relations spin, we intend to prove that there is no valid justification for taking our homes, farms and properties and endangering our livelihoods and families’ well-being for a pipeline that is not needed, not wanted and harmful,” Vincent DiBianca, one of the homeowners leading the HALT group, said in a prepared statement when announcing the group’s formal organization last month.

Richardson said that to acquire people’s land through eminent domain, PennEast must adequately show that the public good is behind the project.

“In New Jersey, there’s already a 53 percent oversupply of natural gas, so it’s not going to benefit the folks in New Jersey. They would simply surrender their land in a process that they do not think makes sense,” Richardson said, adding that the gas carried through the pipeline likely would be converted to liquefied natural gas and shipped overseas.

“That doesn’t lower gas prices in New Jersey,” he said. “That doesn’t lower gas prices here.”

Richardson said thousands of New Jersey residents are refusing to allow PennEast access to their properties to complete surveying or environmental studies.

Even if FERC grants PennEast applications or makes decisions in the company’s favor, Richardson said, those decisions can be appealed to the Washington, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. He pointed out that FERC can be and has been sued over such decisions. The Delaware Riverkeeper and other groups won a similar case in June 2014.

A question-and-answer session followed his presentation.

Mary Rodriguez, secretary for the GDAC, described Richardson as “a very knowledgeable attorney,” and hoped he might be able to help local landowners if any decide they want to fight the pipeline project.

“People should do their research on how many cases have been won or lost,” Rodriguez said. “A lot of organizations, especially Delaware Riverkeeper, are doing a lot of good with lawsuits that are already out there. You know, you don’t have a chance if you don’t fight.”

Reach Steve Mocarsky at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @TLSteveMocarsky.

Reach Steve Mocarsky at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @TLSteveMocarsky.

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