After months of setbacks, the PennEast Pipeline is looking to get back on track, and last week’s approval of two new commissioners to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission might be the ticket.
With the confirmation of the commissioners by the U.S. Senate, the agency now has a quorum, allowing it to take up an estimated $14 billion in energy infrastructure projects awaiting action — including the $1 billion, 120-mile project in Pennsylvania and New Jersey that has provoked such an outcry.
PennEast is hoping to have a staff-proposed Final Environmental Impact Statement approved by the commission, a step that could lead to a certificate of necessity and allow it to exercise eminent domain authority to access properties along its proposed route.
With many property owners balking at granting access to their land, the company has been unable to provide crucial data to state environmental officials to begin reviewing permits it needs for the project to move forward.
The company anticipates it will obtain approval from the commission for the final EIS and the issuing of a certificate this summer, according to Pat Kornick, a spokeswoman for PennEast.
The developer submitted information to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in June for two key permit it needs, but thebecause the company failed to provide information along the proposed route.
The project is widely opposed on both sides of the Delaware River due to fears it will adversely affect drinking water and traverse farmland and open space set aside for preservation, according to opponents. They also argue that the pipeline is unnecessary.
At this point, the fight is likely to shift to the permits being sought at DEP, and to the Delaware River Basin Commission, where approval is also needed. That agency has yet to begin the process of reviewing the project.
“The FERC rubber-stamp approval is a given,’’ said Maya van Rossum, Delaware Riverkeeper. “This doesn’t in any way, shape, or form change our efforts.’’
FERC, given its history, will probably approve the project in short order, agreed Tom Gilbert, campaign director of ReThink Energy NJ. PennEast, however, still has a long way to go, he argued.
“The hardest part of the fight is ahead of them,’’ Gilbert said. “New Jersey is not going to be nearly as friendly as FERC.’’
It is likely the company will exercise eminent domain to obtain access to many properties, he added. “It’s going to make an already unpopular project more unpopular.’’
Beyond local residents, communities, and conservationists, the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel also questioned whether the project is needed and argued the developer failed to justify the profits it would earn from it.
If built, the project will deliver natural gas from the Marcellus Shale region in Pennsylvania to customers in New Jersey. All four of the gas utilities in the state have locked up contracts to get supplies from the line.
PennEast remains optimistic. “We are confident in our application to deliver clean-burning, low-cost American energy to families and businesses throughout the region for decades to come,’’ said Dan Tran, chair of the board of the PennEast Pipeline Company, LLC.