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Feds Urged to Suspend Review of PennEast Pipeline Proposal

Garden State environmental organizations argue that PennEast has submitted flawed data about project’s impact on drinking water

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The federal government should suspend its review of the PennEast pipeline project because the applicant has failed to supply crucial data governing its environmental impact, opponents urged yesterday.

In a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association argued that the applicant also has submitted flawed data related to the project’s potential impact on drinking-water supplies.

The 118-mile long proposed pipeline would run from Luzerne County in Pennsylvania, cross underneath the Delaware River and traverse parts of Hunterdon and Mercer counties. The project has been beset by delays because of widespread opposition from homeowners living by the proposed route, conservationists, and local communities.

Backed by New Jersey’s four gas utilities, the proposal would bring cheap natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formations in Pennsylvania to consumers and businesses here who already have seen steep drops in energy costs from the newly exploited fuel.

The PennEast project is one of more than a dozen new pipelines pending or approved in the state. Most have generated controversy with state lawmakers also getting involved. Yesterday in the state Assembly, legislators approved a resolution (ACR-53) calling on the federal agency to reform its policies in approving interstate natural gas pipelines.

The measure is spurred by concerns that individual projects are reviewed on a case-by-case basis with no consideration given to the cumulative impacts of all the pipelines. One of the chief objections of critics of the PennEast proposal is that the state has more than enough pipeline capacity -- even in the harshest winters when demand is the greatest.

PennEast said critics of the project oppose the use of “clean-burning ‘’natural gas and fail to understand the federal review process.

“Their assertions are reflective of their lack of experience in developing interstate natural-gas pipelines and working within the framework of a FERC project,’’ said Pat Kornick, a spokeswoman for the company. “As PennEast moves through the process, PennEast will continue to provide information to FERC.’’

The opponents, however, argued the deficiencies in the company’s application are so lengthy that it would be impossible to complete a valid environmental impact study.

“PennEast has been asked repeatedly by state and federal agencies to submit this additional information for its application, and has again failed to do so,’’ said Tom Gilbert, campaign director for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “FERC must uphold the integrity of its review process by assuring that PennEast’s application is completed before proceeding with its review,’’

The applicant also has had trouble complying with information requests from the New Jersey Department of Environment Protection, so much so that the state agency told PennEast not to file an application for the permits it needs to move forward on its project.

In a letter submitted to FERC by the Eastern Environmental Law Center, the groups cited numerous problems with the application, including the failure to respond to a request from the agency to look into alternative routes to avoid a public drinking-water supply well in Frenchtown.

The company also failed to justify placing workstations and temporary storage areas within 50 feet of numerous high-value streams that could impact the drinking water of more than 1 million people.

PennEast further failed to address the amount of greenhouse-gas emissions, which contribute to global warming, that would result from the project.

Kornick argued natural gas is helping improve air quality throughout the nation, citing the lowest carbon dioxide emissions from power plants since 1993.

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