October 30, 2019

Council Supports NJDEP’s Denial of NESE and PennEast Pipeline Permits

By Donald Gilpin

Princeton Council has approved unanimously a resolution in support of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP) denial of permits for the Williams/Transco Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) and the PennEast pipeline projects, citing severe environmental concerns and insufficient need, and urging representatives in the New Jersey Legislature and the U.S. Congress to oppose these two projects (https://rethinkenergynj.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Princeton-Pipeline-Resolution-Oct-14-2019-signed.pdf).

Sophie Glovier, chair of the Princeton Environmental Commission, which recommended the proposal to Council, commented on the resolution. “We thought it was important because if built, the NESE project would result in negative environmental impacts for Princeton, as we would be sandwiched between two compressor stations, which can negatively affect the quality of the air and are a safety risk,” she said. “In addition, New Jersey cannot achieve 100 percent clean energy and an 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050 without a transition away from gas and other polluting fossil fuels.”

On September 10, in a legal victory for New Jersey and environmental concerns, a federal appeals court ruled that PennEast, a private company, cannot condemn state-owned land through eminent domain in order to build part of its planned $1B,116-mile natural gas pipeline from Pennsylvania across New Jersey through Hunterdon County to Mercer County.

The Council resolution notes that the NJDEP has grounds to deny permits for this project on this basis alone, since PennEast does not have legal authority or permission to apply to develop these properties.

In an October 8 letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which approved the project, Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) and Tom Malinowski (NJ-7) requested that FERC immediately issue a stop work order for all of PennEast’s land-clearing and construction-related activities.

With the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals September 10 decision having left PennEast’s proposed route uncertain, the letter urged a halt in activity until necessary route changes are identified and PennEast submits a new proposed route to FERC for environmental review, notice, and comment, and a determination of whether the project is in the public interest.

Applauding the Third Circuit’s decision, Malinowski stated, “We must continue to do everything in our power to stop this unnecessary pipeline from being built.”

Denouncing “this potentially dangerous pipeline,” Watson Coleman added, “The streams and aquifers in the path of this pipeline provide drinking water to thousands of residents. The land in the path of this pipeline is some of the most beautiful in our state. You can’t replace 100-year-old trees once they’re gone. FERC should now put an immediate halt on all further land-clearing and construction.”

Despite the FERC approval, the New Jersey Rate Counsel, an independent state agency, has stated that there is no public need for the PennEast pipeline, and it has called the project an opportunity to earn a 14 percent rate of return for the energy companies, “like winning the lottery … unduly generous to PennEast and unfair to consumers.”

PennEast, however, continues to claim that the proposed pipeline is needed, and that FERC approval of their proposal validates their continuing work on the project.

“The PennEast Pipeline was more than 95 percent subscribed before PennEast publicly announced the project five years ago, and the need has grown substantially since then,” PennEast spokesperson Patricia Kornick wrote in an email. “The recent public statements by natural gas utilities in New Jersey expressing serious concerns about the lack of infrastructure capacity and an inability to reliably serve families and businesses who depend on natural gas service underscore the need and public benefit of the PennEast Pipeline, which will deliver affordable, reliable service to the region, including nine million Garden State residents.”

Referring to an October 11 letter from PennEast to the NJDEP, Kornick noted that the NJDEP should have issued determination of administrative completeness to PennEast, and “NJDEP should understand that PennEast is a holder of a valid certificate issued by the Federal Regulatory Commission (FERC); therefore under federal law, pending litigation has no bearing on the Department’s continued review of the multi-permit application.”

Last Friday, October 25, the Oklahoma-based Williams company withdrew three of its four permit applications with NJDEP, but said it would refile the applications in the next few days. The company’s $926M Williams/Transco NESE Project would expand the existing Transco pipeline infrastructure across the Raritan Bay in New Jersey and into New York. The Williams Company did not respond to requests for comment on the denial of permits for their proposal.

Among additional legal, environmental, financial, safety, and other concerns, the  Princeton Council resolution noted that New Jersey already has excess pipeline capacity to meet its needs; that seven proposed new pipelines, five new and proposed compressor stations, and recently developed fracking techniques are “creating a boom where much of the market is overseas”; that development of untapped gas reserves is detrimental to a range of environmental issues; that potential rupture and explosion of pipelines is a significant safety hazard; and that the NESE project would leave Princeton “sandwiched between two compressor stations, in Franklin Township and in Lawrence Township.”

“I applaud the Princeton Council and Environmental Commission for taking a strong stand against the expansion of pipelines in New Jersey to transport fracked gas for which there is no public need,” said Princeton resident Alexi Assmus, who spoke at the October 14 Council meeting.

Assmus went on to cite a Credit Suisse analyst report, showing that most of the anticipated excess capacity will probably be exported abroad if the proposed pipelines are built.