As Deadline at Federal Agency Looms, PennEast Foes Step Up Campaign

Tom Johnson | April 6, 2017 | Energy & Environment
If Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gives controversial pipeline clean environmental bill of health, only local approval is needed for it to move ahead

natural gas pipeline
With a crucial federal decision looming as early as tomorrow, opponents of the PennEast natural gas pipeline stepped up pleas yesterday to the Christie administration to block the project.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission deadline to issue a final Environmental Impact Statement on the 118-mile pipeline is Friday. The EIS is a major hurdle holding up the project that has stirred heated hostility on both sides of the Delaware River.

Critics, who say the pipeline is not needed, have argued that the project developer, PennEast Pipeline Co., has failed to provide detailed information sought by various state agencies. As a result, they argue, the federal agency should not approve the final environmental review.

Last year, FERC issued a draft environmental impact statement acknowledging the project will have some adverse effects on natural resources, but concluded they could be reduced to less than significant levels.

For its part, PennEast is confident that the project will move forward. “PennEast remains on schedule and looks forward to receiving from FERC an anticipated favorable Final Environment Impact Statement that would reaffirm FERC’s July 2016 findings that PennEast can be constructed with minimal environmental impact,’’ said Pat Kornick, a spokesperson for the company.

The project, opposed by many conservation groups as well as local communities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, is likely to win FERC approval, according to foes. If so, they are hoping to block the project in New Jersey at the state Department of Environmental Protection or the Delaware River Basin Commission, which must review the proposal.

The New Jersey DEP has repeatedly told PennEast not to bother filing for various permits it needs until it furnishes much more information the agency is seeking.

One of the most critical permits the developer needs from the DEP is a 401 Water Quality Certificate permit, which would allow the pipeline to cross more than 200 waterways in New Jersey.

“This is the same way Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo stopped the Constitution pipeline in New York,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “It is clearly the way to stop the damaging and destructive pipelines that would threaten our water supply resources in New Jersey. This is one leverage point to stop FERC because they cannot get around it.’’

Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, agreed. “It’s time for New Jersey to get it right, too,’’ he said.

The PennEast project is one of the most controversial of more than a dozen different proposals either pending or approved in the state as a result of a move to take advantage of cheaper natural gas for consumers and businesses. So far, the Christie administration has strongly backed the expansion of the natural-gas infrastructure, citing steep drop in heating bills for customers.

If FERC commissioners issue a favorable ruling on the project later this summer, the company would begin construction, according to Kornick. At the moment, however, the commission lacks a quorum.