DEP Tables PennEast Application, Another Delay for Troubled Pipeline

Tom Johnson | June 29, 2017 | Energy & Environment
State agency seeks detailed information about stream and wetlands crossings, but pipeline company can’t comply

The PennEast pipeline project yesterday suffered a setback when the state Department of Environmental Protection stopped reviewing its application, citing the company’s failure to submit information sought by the agency.

In administratively closing the application, the state essentially delayed the project once again, making it more likely the ultimate review of the key water permits the developer needs may come down to a decision for the next administration early next year.

The 120-mile pipeline, beginning in Luzerne County, PA, and ending in Mercer County, is perhaps the most contentious of a more than a dozen natural-gas projects that have come under review by New Jersey authorities.

PennEast has repeatedly stumbled in trying to gain access from homeowners and others to properties along its route. The result is the company is not able to provide to the DEP detailed information about stream and wetlands crossings, which would allow the agency to review applications for a wetlands permit and water-quality certificate.

“Holding PennEast to the letter of the law helps protect our water, land, and communities from the dangers of a pipeline whose owners just want to rush this project through,’’ said Jim Waltman, executive director of the Stony-Brook Millstone Watershed Association.

PennEast downplayed the significance of the DEP action; the agency also turned down a request to extend the review of the two permits.

“Today’s NJDEP decision was not unexpected, and the good news is that PennEast remains on track to receive final federal approval this summer,’’ said Patricia Kornick, a spokeswoman for the project. With approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the project would obtain eminent-domain authority, allowing it to access property whose owners won’t grant permission.

PennEast will resubmit its permit application to the state agency this year, Kornick said. The project can seek permit approval for up to a year, according to the letter dated yesterday from the DEP.

Still, if the project review extends into a new administration in New Jersey, opponents are hoping it will take a harder look at its downsides than the Christie administration has. The latter has aggressively promoted expanding the natural-gas infrastructure in the state. The result has led to lower home heating costs and a flattening out of electricity bills because of cheap natural gas.

Critics conceded that the agency’s decision is not a wholesale rejection of the project, but was a good sign the state is going to exercise its Clean Water Act authority.

The DEP “may be inclined to take the strong stance that neighboring New York has taken and embrace its right as a state to say ‘no’ to the PennEast pipeline,’’ said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper.