No Eminent Domain for Pipeline Firm?

In high-profile eminent domain news, Pennsylvania state public utility regulators were advised to reject natural gas pipeline firm Laser Northeast Gathering Company LLC’s latest efforts to be recognized as a public utility.  Granting such a request would place safety standards on Laser’s pipelines, but would also help Laser secure eminent domain rights on private property.  This decision, delivered by an administrative law judge, is preliminary; the state’s Public Utility Commission will pass final determination on the matter next year.

Gas-gathering lines are presently unregulated in Pennsylvania.  As such, the Laser case has been closely watched by local pipeline firms and private landowners, alike, due to its potential to set a precedent for regulating the area’s gas pipelines.  Regulations could subject all gas-gathering lines to the Public Utility Commission’s standards on safety, costs, and consumer complaints.

Thomas F. Karam, president and CEO of Laser’s parent company, disagrees with the decision and vows Laser’s continued efforts.  Laser will soon begin construction on an expensive pipeline to carry gas across Pennsylvania’s northeast.  If regulated as a utility, Laser would have the power to seize private property to build the pipeline, although the firm guaranteed to seek eminent domain only as a last resort and only if homes, lakes, or ponds would not be threatened.  Karam denies eminent domain played a significant role in Laser’s case.  Instead, Laser wants to place its pipeline in public right-of-way without having to satisfy each municipality’s zoning requirements.

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