Editor & Publisher, Marcellus Drilling News (MDN)
The radical nuns from Lancaster County who have been playing fractivist while using natural gas filed a frivolous lawsuit that just got tossed out of court.
A group of Catholic nuns in Lancaster County called Adorers of the Blood of Christ have tried several strategies to derail the Williams Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline project. One of stunts they have pulled, in league with a radical Big Green group, is to stick a few wooden park benches in the middle of a corn field they own (leased to a local farmer), and call it a “chapel.” Which is why MDN dubbed them, Sisters of the Corn. They’re anything but serious and a Federal court has recognized it.
Despite the good Sisters using natural gas to heat an old folks home they operate at the same address (talk about religious hypocrisy!) they used the chapel-in-the-corn as an excuse to sue the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) over their approval of Atlantic Sunrise on the grounds that running the pipeline through their corn field violates their religious freedom. According to Lancaster Online, Federal District Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl from Reading, Pennsylvania (appointed by President Obama) has dismissed the frivolous lawsuit brought by the Sisters of the Corn:
A federal judge in Reading has dismissed a freedom-of-religion lawsuit brought by a Roman Catholic order of nuns near Columbia to try to stop a gas pipeline.
The Adorers of the Blood of Christ had brought the lawsuit against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company in a last-ditch effort to stop the Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline from running through farmland they own in West Hempfield Township.
The nuns maintained that their mission is to protect the earth and that condemning their land for a pipeline carrying fossil fuels violated their mission.
A simple, open-air chapel the nuns allowed Lancaster Against Pipelines to build in a corn field in the pipeline right of way has attracted worldwide media attention. The group has vowed to protect the chapel from being destroyed.
But U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Schmehl in Reading agreed with FERC and Transcontinental that the court lacked jurisdiction in the matter.
Christopher Stockton, spokesman for the Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline and owner of Transcontinental, issued this statement to LNP: “We are pleased with the court’s well-reasoned decision to dismiss the Adorer’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act action against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Transco.
“As always, our goal is to respect and treat every landowner fairly. Our team has been willing to negotiate in good faith with the Adorers for more than two years. We remain open to constructive dialogue with the landowner to find an amicable resolution of our differences.
“While we respect the Adorer’s right to express their opinion, we disagree with the position they have taken with regard to this important infrastructure project. Access to inexpensive, domestic natural gas is a huge benefit to all people, especially the economically disadvantaged.
“Sufficient access to affordable natural gas supplies keeps our energy costs low and supports thousands of good-paying jobs, in addition to helping America lead the world in combating climate change.”
An attorney for the Adorers could not be reached on whether an appeal would be made to a higher court.
Editor’s Note: It’s really quite fascinating how little there was to the nuns’ lawsuit. Judge Schmehl dismissed with a memorandum of explanation revealing just how little there was to the whole thing. You can read the whole thing here, but the key aspects are as follows:
Here, plaintiffs do not dispute that they not only failed to apply for a rehearing before FERC, but failed to present their RFRA claims in any manner to the FERC, and ultimately to the appropriate Court of Appeals. Having failed to do so, plaintiffs are barred by 15 U.S.C. §§ 717r(a) and 717r(b) from pursuing what amounts to collateral review of the FERC Order before this Court.
Plaintiffs argue that such a result conflicts with the “sweeping super-statute” nature of RFRA and further argue that the fact Congress made RFRA applicable “to all Federal law, and the implementation of that law, whether statutory or otherwise, and whether adopted before or after November 16, 1993,” …“unless such law explicitly excludes such application by reference to this chapter,” means that RFRA supersedes the exclusive jurisdiction provisions of the NGA. 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-3(a),(b)…
…plaintiffs would have had the opportunity to present their RFRA claims in a judicial proceeding before the appropriate Court of Appeals had they first sought a rehearing before FERC. Having failed to participate at all at FERC, or raise any objections at FERC, either initially or through a rehearing as did the other interested parties, plaintiffs cannot now argue that they have been deprived of the ability to assert their RFRA claims in a judicial proceeding.
No matter how sweeping RFRA may be, plaintiffs simply may not bypass the specific procedure established by Congress in the NGA by bringing a RFRA suit against FERC in this Court. As none of the cases cited by plaintiffs supports the proposition that RFRA supersedes the NGA’s exclusive jurisdiction provision, the motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction are granted and the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction is denied as moot.
The nuns, in other words, were only play-acting from the beginning, willing participants in a fractivist charade intended to generate headlines rather than substance. There was nothing serious about any of their claims. It was a case of frivolous is as frivolous does as the Sisters of the Corn provided corny theater for the sake of harassing the producers of that which they use and making themselves appear to thew world as good radicals while essentially doing nothing.