Rep. Tom Malinkowski (D-N.J.) wants to make sure landowners are able to use their legal rights when energy companies try to build on their property.
In May, Malinowski introduced a bill that would give people the chance to have a final appeal heard by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) before construction begins. This would give landowners more time to fight in an instance where the government has signed off on a company using their land for an energy project.
The bill would force the federal government to respond within 60 days to a rehearing request, and the government cannot authorize construction by claiming “eminent domain” during that time period.
“Landowners in my district are being cheated out of the opportunity to defend their land from seizure by the PennEast Corporation,” said Malinowski in a statement. “This bill will give a voice to landowners fighting to protect their property.”
According to NJSpotlight, there have been nearly a dozen pipeline projects either approved or proposed in New Jersey that would bring natural gas to other states. The pipelines can cross through public and private land and disrupt the existing landscape.
According to Malinowski’s office, under current law the federal government issues what is known as “tolling orders” when a landowner requests a rehearing, so FERC can take another look at their case. The government then investigates the case, while preventing the landowner from engaging in further litigation outside of the FERC process. Malinowski’s office says this can end up delaying a judgement until it’s too late.
The “tolling orders” also means the government can authorize developers to proceed with their seizure of property through eminent domain and begin construction. Sometimes the construction, like cutting down trees, can permanently alter a landowner’s property even before any formal judgement is made.
Malinowski introduced the legislation alongside Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.). She explained that the issue is important because pipeline projects in her district can disrupt whole communities.
“Families whose land is threatened by a pipeline deserve a fair hearing and must have their due process rights protected,” she said in a statement.