A whiplash of partial victories and partial defeats in the MidAtlantic pipeline landscape remind that partial pathways through existing regulatory structures will never be enough to truly protect communities and the environment from a system of spotty regulation, eminent domain, and corporate rights functioning as designed.
In the realm of partial victory, on September 10 the Philadelphia federal Third Circuit Court of appeals overturned a lower court ruling, and the ruling of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, to halt eminent domain seizures for the PennEast Pipeline through New Jersey. PennEast Pipeline Co. representatives insist they are “committed to moving ahead with the project.” Nonetheless, local groups resisting the pipeline are thrilled to stall it once again. Similarly, in the ongoing fight against the Mariner East pipeline, residents and advocates alike celebrated the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s late August assessment of over $319,000 in fines against Sunoco Pipeline LP for failing to follow clean stream, erosion, and other environmental regulations in its construction sites in ten counties.
However, these partial victories, when seen in the context of the broader pipeline landscape, make clear the desperate need for community rights and rights of nature. When local political will is lacking, or when Federal pre-emption is asserted, or when the regulatory apparatus functions as designed, as in the late August Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s decision that the Constitution Pipeline in New York can move forward, there is little recourse communities can turn to stop these projects. Even in the PennEast Pipeline stall "The appellate court said the pipeline still could proceed with a "workaround," and remanded the case back to the lower court." Battling each individual pipeline in court is a lengthy and expensive process, that can stall, but rarely stop, a project from moving forward.
We can appreciate these short-term victories, and it’s understandable that we try to use existing agencies and courts to protect our communities. But without a constitutional amendment to protect community and environmental rights, these battles will almost always be stop-gaps, rather than lasting protection.
Furthermore, stalling one pipeline in one town does not help other towns fighting pipelines in other places. At some point, we must stop fighting environmental harms one at a time, and instead pursue lasting change.
For lasting change, we need a Constitutional Amendment on Community Rights.
PACRN is a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to helping Pennsylvania communities establish local self-governance, social justice,