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On The Front Lines

Rutherford Institute Supports Virginia Landowners Challenging Pipeline Projects, Asks Supreme Court to Restrain Eminent Domain Abuses

WASHINGTON, DC — Challenging the government’s abuse of its eminent domain power to take private property for natural gas pipelines that primarily benefit private corporate interests, The Rutherford Institute has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate a lawsuit by Virginia landowners that asks for a fair hearing on their claim that the taking of their land for a pipeline project violates their constitutional rights. In an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court, Institute attorneys argue that the landowners’ constitutional right to due process entitles them to a fair and meaningful hearing before a court on their claims that the government has unconstitutionally delegated the power to take private property to pipeline companies and that the taking of their property is not for a “public use” as required by the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.  The amicus brief condemns the lower court’s ruling that the landowners could not bring their claims in federal court, but were required to make them before a federal agency in charge of granting pipeline applications.

“It takes a lot of gall to trespass onto someone’s private property, tear up their land, cut down their trees, pollute their air and water, prevent them from moving freely on their own property, threaten them with fines and arrests for challenging the intrusion, and then force them to pay (by way of taxes) to retain ownership of the property or sell it cheaply or at a loss so it can be torn down and used for some purpose that the government deems more beneficial to its bottom line. That’s how little respect the government has for our rights,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Unfortunately, American taxpayers have become trespassers on their own property thanks to the government’s utter disregard for property rights.”

In October 2015, a joint venture of natural gas and energy companies announced a plan to construct a natural gas pipeline, known as the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), along a route running from West Virginia through portions of southwest Virginia. The plan to construct the MVP involves not only the destruction of forest lands located in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest but also the taking of private property from scores of landowners.

Under the National Gas Act (NGA), construction of the MVP required the approval of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which granted that permission in October 2017. Prior to that approval, numerous landowners whose land would be taken from them as part of the construction of the MVP filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Virginia challenging the constitutionality of the NGA’s provisions on the use of the power of eminent domain. Among other things, the landowners asserted that the NGA improperly authorizes the taking of their property for the private use and benefit of gas companies, in violation of the constitutional requirement that any forced taking of private property must be for a public use. However, the court dismissed the landowners’ lawsuit without considering their constitutional claims, ruling that the landowners were required to have first raised these arguments before FERC during the pipeline approval process. The dismissal was upheld on the landowners’ appeal, who then filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court asking that the ruling be reviewed and reversed.

Weighing in before the Court in support of the landowners’ petition, The Rutherford Institute’s amicus brief asserts that the pipeline approval process deprives landowners of their due process right to have a court hear and decide their claims that the taking of their property violates the constitution.