Court Rejects Nuns’ Lawsuit Intended to Halt Pipeline

Published September 17, 2018

A panel of judges on the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a lawsuit brought by a group of Roman Catholic nuns from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania to halt the Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline, which is under construction through land they own.

The Adorers of the Blood of Christ, a group of nuns who built an outdoor prayer chapel in the proposed path of the pipeline, brought the lawsuit under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, challenging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERCs) decision to allow energy developers to use eminent domain authority to take part of their land. The nuns argue the use of the land for a pipeline violates their religious belief land is a “gift of beauty and sustenance” and should not be used in an “excessive and harmful way.”

The judges’ July 25 decision upheld a lower court’s 2017 ruling the court did not have jurisdiction to hear the nuns’ lawsuit, saying the Adorers should have raised their objections during FERC’s administrative process, not afterward.

‘Simply Ridiculous’

James M. Taylor, a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News, says it’s shameful the nuns are promoting environmental extremism.

“Claiming the construction of a pipeline violates religious freedom is simply ridiculous,” said Taylor. “It is a shame this group of activist nuns are sullying the beautiful concepts of devotion and religion in order to advance radical environmental goals,” Taylor said.

Timothy Benson, a policy analyst for The Heartland Institute, says lawsuits delaying pipeline construction raise energy costs unnecessarily.

“Pipeline infrastructure development has been needlessly slowed by frivolous lawsuits filed by anti-fossil-fuel activists,” said Benson. “Political opposition to new pipeline infrastructure projects increases electricity prices, costs jobs, and reduces GDP, imposing costs on citizens across the country by decreasing the availability of cheap natural gas.”

Use of Eminent Domain

The use of eminent domain in this case is justifiable, says Nathan Benefield, chief operating officer for the Commonwealth Foundation.

“Pipelines, like roads, would seem to fall under the category of infrastructure, where the use of eminent domain is legitimate,” Benefield said. “Once you’ve built hundreds of miles of pipeline along the path of least resistance, it’s difficult to find a cooperative solution when one landholder can stop a pipeline’s completion.

“In this situation, two questions need to be asked: Has every reasonable alternative to eminent domain been exhausted, and is there no area for compromise between the nuns and the Atlantic pipeline’s developers?” said Benefield. “If the use of eminent domain is necessary, fair compensation must be part of any decision to use this power.” 

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.