Op-Ed: PennEast Pipeline Doesn’t Go With a Clean-Energy Future

Brandon McKoy | June 4, 2019 | Opinion
We already have more gas than we need. Moreover, we must use less gas to reduce harmful emissions and meet our goals for combating climate change

Brandon McKoy
While we share a border and general appreciation for a good bagel, New Jersey and New York are different — especially when you look at our approaches to energy issues. Proponents of the PennEast fracked-gas pipeline — including some lawmakers, building trades unions, and utility companies — have put forth numerous inaccurate arguments that repeat scare tactics being used by gas companies in New York. These faulty arguments should not dictate New Jersey’s energy policy.

Take, for example, the claim that New Jersey needs more pipeline capacity. A report by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, “A Solution in Search of a Problem,” proves this is false. The PennEast pipeline isn’t needed to meet the state’s energy needs because New Jersey already has substantial excess pipeline capacity. Considering this, it’s almost laughable when gas companies suggest that a few cold winter days require our state to build a new 120-mile pipeline that we’re not even close to needing. That’s like living in Antarctica and buying a convertible for the one “hot” day each year.

Research by gas pipeline experts at the energy consulting firm Skipping Stone conclusively shows that PennEast is not needed for reliability, even on the coldest days of the year — and that New Jersey’s existing pipeline network of over 1,500 miles is more than sufficient to meet demand.

Proponents of the pipeline have oft repeated PennEast’s unsubstantiated claims that it would improve reliability and save consumers money during winter cold spells, but the facts show that during the past two winters of extreme cold weather in New Jersey there were no reliability problems and excess gas was flowing out of our state. The reality is that building the PennEast pipeline would force consumers to foot the $1 billion bill for construction, which is why the state Rate Counsel called it “unneeded” and “unfair to ratepayers.”

It isn’t just that we have more gas than we need, but also that we must use less gas in order to reduce harmful emissions and meet our goals for combating climate change. Natural gas is a dirty fossil fuel and is the primary source of emissions that threaten our health and contribute to climate change. The PennEast pipeline would take us in the wrong direction and, according to Oil Change International, generate greenhouse-gas emissions equivalent to 14 coal plants or 10 million cars. New Jersey’s Global Warming Response Act, passed in 2007, sets sensible goals for reducing emissions — and gas won’t get us there.

Pipeline jobs versus clean-energy jobs

Common-sense policies to reduce gas use will also save us money. Instead of burning gas, we’ll be relying more on clean, affordable energy sources like wind and solar that enable better efficiency and provide new ways to store energy. The experience of other states that pursue this clean-energy pathway shows that we can reduce emissions and maintain reliability while reducing costs — benefits that are impossible if we continue to rely on gas as our primary energy resource.

Besides all these important environmental reasons, clean and renewable energy sources also open up the opportunity for better jobs — lots of good, local jobs in clean-energy technologies including wind, solar and energy efficiency. According to independent research, PennEast falsely inflated its estimated job numbers by at least 66 percent and that the project would result in only 10 ongoing jobs in New Jersey after construction. The same report found that PennEast would have an “infinitesimally small” contribution to the economy. Meanwhile, clean-energy jobs already employ about 52,000 New Jerseyans, a number that will grow significantly as we increase investments in energy efficiency, wind and solar power.

The claims by PennEast that the project has undergone strict environmental reviews are misleading, as the most important review — that of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection — hasn’t even started. The DEP is charged with enforcing our stringent clean water regulations; building PennEast would threaten 38 protected streams that are among the cleanest in the state.

New Jersey should ignore the hyperbole coming from PennEast and its supporters. Doubling down on the status quo of gas energy only creates more environmental problems and leads to greater waste of public money. The facts show that the PennEast pipeline is not needed and has no part in New Jersey’s clean-energy future. Instead, it’s time to invest in renewable energy sources and make sure New Jersey is building the economy of the 21st century.