AG’s Office Steps into Property Rights Dispute

Here’s the article in Virginia Lawyers Weekly.

For those of you who don’t know him, Senator Phil Puckett (D-Russell) represents the counties of the far Southwest, which are commonly referred to as “the coalfields.”  They are counties which are largely dependent on extractive industries which tap their natural resources.  In this day and age, the most lucrative is natural gas.

For years, there has been an ongoing controversy in southwest Virginia about large mining companies which either extract natural gas from existing coal beds (when they didn’t ask the owner for that right) or extract the natural gas from neighboring properties (when they have no right).  Landowners in southwest Virginia, who were losing revenue, got organized and filed lawsuits to protect their property rights from uncompensated drilling.

It might be a boring case, with minimal interest to outsiders.  However, the Attorney General’s office — allegedly the “People’s Champion” — has apparently decided to  provide  legal advice and assistance to the out-of-state natural gas companies (who can certainly afford their own legal help), not the Virginia property owners.

This revelation was sufficiently unusual to be deemed “shocking” by the Federal judge overseeing the natural gas cases.  And it provoked the request by Senator Puckett for an investigation into the AG’s role.

I don’t pretend to know the merits of the individual cases.  I do know that Senator Puckett is not a partisan shill and it would take a lot for him to take such a strong stand.  It’s also unusual for a Federal judge to comment publicly on the role of a public agency in a contested legal proceeding.  Usually those remarks are made in chambers.

The larger issue is this — the AG’s office is supposed to protect the rights of Virginia consumers, not seek ways to subvert them.






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