PA Nuns Step up Defending Land Against Pipelines

The Adorers pray before Thursday’s hearing resumes, Sister Martha, Sister Bernice, Sister George Ann, Sister Joan and Sister Linda. Photo by Lancaster Online’s Richard Hertzler.

Earlier in July, more than 500 people gathered in a hot and dusty Pennsylvania cornfield yesterday to join the Catholic sisters of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ for the dedication of a new outdoor chapel, built on land about to be seized from them by a corporate developer planning to build a natural gas pipeline. (Read more.)

This past week, five Lancaster County landowners, including the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, were in US District Court in Reading, PA, fighting to keep the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline off their land. Transco/Williams seeks immediate possession of these properties, even though the eminent domain process is far from finalized, according to a press release.

After two full days of testimony and argument, the hearing came to an end. Judge Jeffrey Schmehl said he would review the cases and “render a ruling at an appropriate time.”

Organizers identified key takeaways from the court hearing:

*The Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline (ASP) still lacks permits from the Pennsylvania DEP that must be obtained before construction begins. David Sztroin, project manager for the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, testified at the hearing that those permits—assuming they come—are not expected until early- to mid-September.

*Furthermore, the PA DEP could ultimately deny Williams the necessary water permits to begin construction, effectively derailing the project. Why should Williams be granted advance access to landowner properties for a project that might never be built? In early 2016, the state of New York denied similar permits for the Constitution Pipeline. That project remains stalled to this day.

*Attorney Michael Onufrak conclusively demonstrated that the ASP is largely designed to export Marcellus fracked gas overseas. This fact clearly undercuts the legitimacy of FERC’s approval of the project, as well as the use of eminent domain.

*On Friday, July 14, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against FERC. The suit alleges that a fracked gas pipeline through their farmland in West Hempfield Township violates their long-demonstrated religious commitment to environmental justice.

The Adorers, whose religious practice includes protecting and preserving creation, which they believe is a revelation of God, allege that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and its Commissioner, Cheryl La Fleur, have violated a federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, by forcing the Adorers to use their land to accommodate a fossil fuel pipeline. Such use is antithetical to the Adorers’ deeply held religious beliefs.

The Adorers allege that FERC’s action places a substantial burden on their exercise of religion by taking their land, which they want to protect and preserve as part of their faith, and forces the Adorers to use their land in a manner and for a purpose they believe is harmful to the earth.

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