Maryland seeks dismissal of federal lawsuit by company blocked from building natural gas pipeline

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh has asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a company that wants to build a natural gas pipeline in Washington County that the state’s top officials have rejected.

Columbia Gas Transmission, which is owned by TransCanada Corp., filed the lawsuit last month in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. It seeks a preliminary injunction to give the company immediate access to property to drill a pipeline under the Western Maryland Rail Trail. It also seeks the “award of just compensation and damages.”


The lawsuit was filed not long after the Maryland Board of Public Works in January rejected a request to grant an easement for a segment of the pipeline that would carry fracked natural gas through three miles of western Maryland, after years of environmentalists and neighbors fighting the project. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and the three-member board’s Democrats — Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp — agreed the project would be bad for the environment.

In addition, over 60 members of the Maryland General Assembly signed a letter opposing the grant of an easement.


The pipeline would transport fracked gas from Pennsylvania to a new plant in West Virginia. Its length in Maryland would be 3 miles.

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted Columbia Gas a “certificate of public convenience and necessity,” which “nominally gives it the power to condemn property,” Frosh said in a statement.

But the Democratic attorney general argued in the motion to dismiss that the “11th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prevents a federal court from ordering the state to grant the easement.”

“We are vigorously defending Maryland’s right to refuse a pipeline company’s efforts to drill under state land,” Frosh said in a statement.

The filing also stated that the amendment grants Maryland and other states immunity from such lawsuits.

“Columbia is a business organized under the laws of Delaware pursuing litigation against the state of Maryland,” the filing states. “In other words, the 11th Amendment bars federal jurisdiction over suits by any private citizen against a state.”

Carol Wirth, a spokesperson for TransCanada, said Tuesday that “the legal action is not a direction in which we prefer to proceed.”

“As a company, we are proud of our commitment to working collaboratively with landowners and delivering the project in a safe and environmentally responsible manner," she said. “In fact, we have successfully reached agreements with all private landowners along the project route in Maryland and West Virginia and have received necessary approvals from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, as well as the Maryland Department of Environment.”