A group of Roman Catholic nuns has filed a lawsuit against the federal agency that approved construction of a major interstate natural gas pipeline, planned to run through the nuns’ property in Lancaster County.
The suit, filed by sisters from the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, targets the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline and alleges the project violates their religious freedom, which is protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The Atlantic Sunrise is $3 billion expansion of the Transco system. It’s designed to move Marcellus Shale gas from Susquehanna County in northeastern Pennsylvania southward to markets along the East Coast and to an export terminal under construction along the Chesapeake Bay.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gave its approval to the pipeline in February. The pipeline company, Williams Partners, plans to install the line underground on the sisters’ property in West Hempfield Township. The company unsuccessfully tried to negotiated rights to the land, and is now authorized to use eminent domain, and would have permanent rights to a 50-foot-wide area on approximately one acre.
“We believe FERC’s decision to force the Adorers to use their land to accommodate this pipeline violates their religious beliefs,” says J. Dwight Yoder, the nuns’ attorney.
The nuns recently built an outdoor chapel on the property to symbolize their opposition to the project, and their efforts have attracted national attention. The Washington Post reports their strategy of using a religious freedom argument against eminent domain is relatively untested.
A FERC spokeswoman says it’s the commission’s policy, “not to comment on, or speculate about, pending litigation.”
In an email, Williams spokesman Chris Stockton says the nuns failed to raise these uses during the multi-year public process that led to FERC’s approval of the project.
“The suit is a clear, collateral attack on the FERC order issuing the certificate,” he writes. “Like millions of homes and business across the U.S., the nuns’ retirement community enjoys the benefits of affordable, reliable natural gas service. Therefore, we find it ironic that the Adorers would challenge the value of natural gas infrastructure in the lawsuit, while at the same time promoting the availability and use of natural gas at their St. Anne’s Retirement Community.”