For the second time in less than a month, regulatory authorities have blocked, at least temporarily, a nearly $1 billion new natural gas pipeline that would cut through portions of New Jersey and under Raritan Bay to supply New York City and Long Island.
In a decision announced late on Wednesday, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection denied two crucial permits sought by the Williams Companies for the Transco Northeast Supply Enhancement project, although the application can be resubmitted with remedies for problems cited by the state agency.
In denying waterfront and coastal wetlands permits for the project, the DEP found the application failed to demonstrate a practical alternative to building a compressor station on 16 acres of land in Franklin Township near habitat for barred owl. The state also concluded that dredging of contaminated sediments with mercury, arsenic and PCBs would impair surface water quality in the bay.
The denial of the permits is a significant victory for environmental groups, who deluged Gov. Phil Murphy’s office with calls and petitions opposing the project. It marks one of the few times they have stopped any of the dozen or so new fossil-fuel projects pending in New Jersey.
The project is the latest of proposals to expand the region’s natural gas infrastructure since the discovery of cheap natural gas in shale fields in Pennsylvania has sparked a boom cycle for the sector. Aimed at bringing needed new gas capacity to Long Island, the project also was denied a permit by New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation in May, although it has resubmitted its application there.
The Murphy administration is being pressured to impose a moratorium on new fossil-fuel projects by a coalition of environmental groups, who say any new gas infrastructure conflicts with the governor’s call to convert the state to 100 percent clean energy by 2050.
“If we are serious about confronting climate change, these fossil fuel projects simply cannot be built,’’ said Junior Romero, organizer for Food & Water Watch, one of the groups calling for a moratorium. “The Murphy administration was right to reject Transco’s reckless bid to sacrifice the remarkable recovery of Raritan Bay for the sake of its own profits.’’
Up until now, the state has been moving fossil-fuel projects forward, approving four water quality permits for aspects of pipeline projects, including one for a proposed new natural gas-fired plant in the Meadowlands. It also has essentially ended another pipeline project in the Pinelands that would have delivered fuel to an old coal facility in Cape May, a proposal abandoned by the current owner of the plant.
Meanwhile, the DEP also has suspended permits it had given to ain Gibbstown in South Jersey because of an error in the public notice about the project. The agency has opened a new 15-day period for the public to comment on the project, which calls for super-cooled natural gas from Pennsylvania to be shipped to the facility via trucks.
Williams did not return calls for comment. In a statement to the Associated Press, the company said it would reapply for the permits.
“The fight isn’t over yet. DEP denied the permits without prejudice, which means Transco can come right back and re-apply,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, who also called for a moratorium by the governor. “That would help prevent NESE from coming back.’’
For the most part, however, the DEP decision was hailed by climate activists and clean-energy advocates.
“New Jersey used its authority to protect our water, natural resources, and communities from a dangerous pipeline. Strong laws mean nothing if they aren’t backed up by strong enforcement. In deciding this issue on its own merits, New Jersey stepped up for the public interest,’’ said Patty Cronheim, outreach coordinator for ReThink Energy NJ, a group advocating a transition to cleaner fuels.
The project won approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in early May. Besides the two permits denied by DEP Wednesday, the company also requires a permit under the federal Clean Water Act from the agency, which is expected to be decided by the end of June.