Pinelands Commission Sued to Stop Review of Pipeline Project

Tom Johnson | January 20, 2017 | Energy & Environment
Pinelands Alliance has asked appeals court to block commission from determining if pipeline complies with state policy and administrative rules

The B.L. England power plant would be converted from coal to natural gas with a new South Jersey Gas pipeline.
The Pinelands Commission is being dragged into court again.

In an ongoing legal dispute, the state agency is being challenged in its bid to act on a controversial new pipeline project that would allow natural gas to be shipped to the former B.L. England power plant in upper Cape May County.

The Pinelands Preservation Alliance, which has been fighting the proposal, is asking a state appeals court to block the commission from acting on whether the project complies with state policy and administrative rules for reviewing such applications.

The latest legal maneuver further muddies what has been a lengthy and drawn-out battle over the project pushed by South Jersey Gas. The project previously had been on two occasions approved by the state Board of Public Utilities, as well as by the executive director of the Pinelands Commission.

The approvals were ruled inconsistent with state law by a state appellate court late last year, which kicked the issue back to the two agencies in a unanimous decision. In response, the commission scheduled an unusual telephone meeting to decide on how to move forward for Monday morning.

In its brief to the appeals court, the alliance is seeking to prevent the commission from acting, arguing it is once again failing to comply with provisions of the agency’s Comprehensive Management Plan and the state Administrative Procedure Act.

The alliance wants to prevent the commission from acting until its appeal is resolved.

The 22-mile-long project is one of the more contentious of greater than a dozen new pipeline projects pending or approved in the state in recent years. Fueled by the boom in natural-gas drilling in nearby Pennsylvania, the pipelines have helped lower heating costs for residents and businesses that rely on the gas.

The projects have been backed by the Christie administration as well as business and labor groups as part of the state’s efforts to expand its energy infrastructure, but opposed by conservationists who fear they are increasing the state’s reliance on fossil fuels contributing to global climate change.

The commissioners initially balked at approving the Pinelands pipeline, but its executive director decided the application complied with its management plan and approved it. When opponents sued, the court sided with them and remanded the case back to the commission, which is where it stands.

Earlier this month, four former governors, two Democrats and a pair of Republicans, reiterated their opposition to the pipeline project. In a letter to the commission, the governors warned that the gas pipeline would threaten resources and encourage development that could harm the fragile region.