Home rule isn’t what it used to be.
For the second time in four months, the state is prepared to approve a new natural-gas pipeline with local communities along the proposed route having no say in the decision.
The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities today is prepared to give its final approval to a 30-mile project proposed by New Jersey Natural Gas. The agency OK’d the route of the pipeline in January; the issue before commissioners now is whether to exempt the project from review and approval of municipal land-use laws.
Like other gas pipelines proposed in New Jersey, the project is opposed by many conservation groups, in part because it would cross a portion of the Pinelands, a 1 million-acre preserve in southern Jersey.
New Jersey is being crisscrossed by up to 18 new pipelines or expansion projects that aim to tap plentiful and cheap supplies of natural gas being exploited in Pennsylvania and neighboring states. While reducing energy bills for customers, the projects are opposed by many because they intrude on private property or traverse sensitive environmental areas, including parks, wetlands, and farmland.
The BPU has generally backed the projects as conforming to new state energy policies that seek to expand the infrastructure for natural gas and promote new power plants that run on the fuel. The agency approved a 22-mile pipeline that also runs through the Pinelands to the B.L. England unit in upper Cape May County in December.
[related]New Jersey Natural Gas said its so-called Southern Reliability project will provide more dependable gas delivery to the company’s customers in Monmouth and Ocean counties. It would provide a second feeder line into the southern portion of its franchise territory, an area hard hit by Hurricane Sandy where gas service was disrupted.
But critics disputed that assertion, calling on the agency to reject the project.
“Ratepayers should not bear the $170 million burden to build a pipeline that is both unnecessary and a violation of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Act,’’ said Carleton Montgomery, executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.
A week ago, however, the Pineland Commission issued a letter saying that the petition by the utility is in compliance with the Comprehensive Management Plan. Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said the letter gives the BPU authority to approve the project.
“The BPU has never met a pipeline they didn’t like and this one is no exception,’’ Tittel said.
In January, when the BPU approved the route of the project, staff and commissioners said the pipeline would enhance reliability by providing an alternative way to deliver fuel to customers during winter months, 85 percent of whom now rely on a single pipeline.