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Judge Upholds State’s Decision to Block Gas Pipeline

A federal court delivered another blow Wednesday to a natural gas company that wants to run a pipeline under parts of Western Maryland.

United States District Court of Maryland Judge George Russell rejected Columbia Gas Transmission’s bid to run a pipeline from natural gas fracking operations in Pennsylvania to another pipeline in West Virginia.

The company was seeking to run the pipeline underground along a 3.7-mile stretch of Western Maryland, including a popular hiker-biker trail, and then underneath the Potomac River.

The gas company’s lawsuit specifically sought to try to use the power of eminent domain to take public land. It claimed that a permit granted to the project by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission allowed the taking.

The Maryland Board of Public Works unanimously rejected the company’s application for a permit in January, and the company went to court to reverse the decision in May. Maryland banned fracking in 2017.

Both sides offered testimony before Russell last week.

“We are pleased that the court has agreed that a private pipeline company cannot force the state to accept a pipeline under the Western Maryland Rail Trail,” said Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) in a statement. “We will continue to defend Maryland’s right to control its public lands against any other efforts by the natural gas industry to move forward with this project.”

Environmental groups were triumphant.

“Fossil fuel companies have acted as if they are above the law for too long,” said Kirsten Collings, deputy director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “Columbia Gas wants to trample over states’ rights and steal our precious public land, all for a dangerous pipeline that we don’t even need. This would have set a dangerous precedent in Maryland.”

Company officials did not rule out the possibility of taking their case to a federal appeals court.

“We will be evaluating our options in response to today’s decision,” Tim Wright, a spokesman for TC Energy, a parent company of Columbia Gas, told the Hagerstown Herald-Mail in an email Wednesday. “We are committed to moving forward with this project to ensure that we can safely and reliably deliver a vital energy source to help power a region’s homes, businesses and economy.”

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