NJ Sierra Club v. Pinelands Commission Back in Appellate Court

Tom Johnson | October 31, 2017 | Energy & Environment
At heart of dispute, 30-mile pipeline project that New Jersey Natural Gas argues is key to increasing reliability for its customers

Credit: Pinelands Preservation Alliance
Colliers Mill Pond Pinelands
The New Jersey Sierra Club is once again taking the Pinelands Commission to court over its approval of a 30-mile pipeline through parts of the preservation area of the 1-million acre preserve.

In a lawsuit filed in the state appellate division, the environmental group is challenging the commission’s decision last month to approve New Jersey Natural Gas’s Southern Reliability Link pipeline in the Pinelands.

The litigation prolongs a controversy over the expansion of natural-gas pipelines in the Pinelands, two of which have won approval from state regulators, and extends the larger fight over pipeline projects throughout the state that has emerged since drilling in neighboring Pennsylvania brought cheap new supplies of gas to the market.

In challenging the SRL project, the organization is arguing the approval violated the state’s Administrative Procedures Act and the commission’s Comprehensive Management Plan.

The pipeline project generated widespread opposition from conservationists who said it would threaten environmentally sensitive land in the Pinelands. They also claimed the pipeline is unneeded. Touted by the utility as enhancing reliability for its customers, the pipeline would run across the state, beginning in Chesterfield Township, crossing a part of Joint-Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, before ending in Marlboro Township.

Micheal Kinney, a spokesman for New Jersey Natural Gas, said the project will provide a second feed into the southern end of its distribution system to support safe, reliable delivery of gas to 83 communities in three counties.

“The project was thoroughly reviewed by the New Jersey Pinelands Commission and was approved based on the facts,’’ Kinney said. “And we are confident the facts will continue to prevail.’’

The project, previously approved by the commission and state Board of Public Utilities, was successfully challenged by the Sierra Club and other groups also on procedural grounds and remanded back to the agencies, which again approved the project.

“We are going to court because the credibility of the Pinelands is at stake,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The decision is a major blow to the Pinelands, but the battle isn’t over yet.’’

The commission earlier this year approved, again over strong opposition from environmentalists, a 22-mile pipeline to the B.L. England plant in northern Cape May, a project also tied up in a court challenge.