The PennEast pipeline is an unnecessary infrastructure project that will only benefit the companies who own it, and whose costs will be borne by residents in the area. In response to the PennEast threat, we formed HALT PennEast. We are average citizens who have joined forces to stop this pipeline.
Back in January 2018 PennEast was given until January 19, 2020 to finish the proposed project and place it into service. As you know, after solid opposition these two years have expired and no pipeline is in place. This is great news!
On December 30, 2019 PennEast, citing regulatory hurdles that still remain in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, filed a request with the Federal Regulatory Commission (FERC) asking for a two-year extension. FERC regularly rubber stamps such requests and an extension for PennEast is expected. Nonetheless, on January 6, Columbia Morningside Legal Services Inc. sent a letter to FERC on behalf of New Jersey Conservation Foundation, The Watershed Institute and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network opposing PennEast’s baseless request for an extension of time. Link to letter: https://elibrary.ferc.gov/idmws/common/OpenNat.asp?fileID=15436984 .
As you know, PennEast has requested that the U.S. Supreme Court review the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit stating that PennEast could not take the State of New Jersey into court to take possession of state land for private development. It remains unclear as to whether the Supreme Court will choose to hear this case. At the same time, PennEast cannot resubmit its failed applications to the NJDEP until the U.S. Supreme Court ruling is complete. The DRBC is reviewing PennEast’s application but has not schedule required public hearings.
Since there is little else to report, HALT is cancelling the January 29 meeting at the Prallsville Mills. As of now, we will retain the February 26 scheduled meeting.
In the meantime, HALT will remain attentive and vigilant in its opposition. We ask homeowners and citizens to do the same. Our intention over the ensuing months is to pay attention to developments in the courts including decisions on related cases. Our neighbors in Pennsylvania will keep their focus on preventing PennEast from cutting trees and inflicting other damage before any construction begins.
We will continue to keep you abreast of any events as they unfold. May 2020 bring us more good news!
PennEast announced last Thursday (November 14th) that it will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that said PennEast could not take the State of New Jersey into court to take possession of state land.
This move was anticipated. We expected PennEast to ask the Supreme Court to overturn the Third Circuit’s decision because otherwise it lacks options for moving forward with its pipeline project. In addition, PennEast has to show its investors and FERC that it is doing everything it can to get the project built. Otherwise, FERC would have grounds to withdraw its certificate.
Review is not automatic. No one knows whether the high court will hear this case. On average, the Supreme Court only takes 1 to 2% of the cases it is asked to review, and usually only takes cases where circuit courts have issued opposing opinions on the law. That is not the case here. PennEast will argue that it is in the national interest to build pipelines and the Third Circuit’s decision interferes with that national policy. New Jersey, on the other hand, will assert its sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This forbids private companies, like PennEast, from suing states unless the right has been waived by the state or by Congress.
If heard, what is the likely outcome? This move by PennEast will cause another extensive delay.If the Supreme Court were to take the case next spring, oral arguments would probably be scheduled in the fall of 2020, with a decision issued during the first half of 2021. No one can accurately predict what the Supreme Court would decide and when it will make that decision.
Steps in the meantime. HALT, and its members and allies, are aligning to support the State of New Jersey to ensure that our resources are made available and our voices heard. Remember, the pipeline cannot be built while the Supreme Court decides whether to take the case or unless it issues an order overturning the Third Circuit’s decision. If it does take the case, it would probably not issue a decision until the winter or spring of 2021. If it doesn’t take the case or doesn’t overturn the decision, PennEast may not be able to proceed.
We will keep you abreast of events as they unfold!
Excerpt: “Today, the PennEast Pipeline asked FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) for an “extension of time.” […] If they manage to complete the pipeline by 2022, it will be five years behind schedule.“
Excerpt: “Yesterday, the Keystone pipeline leaked an estimated 383,000 gallons (9,120 barrels) of oil into wetlands in North Dakota. The leak is already the eighth-largest pipeline oil spill of the last decade.”
“We hope that everyone will share these findings with the public, with your members, and with decision-makers evaluating natural gas pipelines and infrastructure in the Delaware River Basin and beyond. They tell an important story regarding the significant environmental and social costs of these projects, and the horror stories from construction of Mariner East 2 show how real the risks are, and how damaging these projects can be to our water resources, and impacted landowners and communities!”
—Tom Gilbert–Campaign Director for Energy, Climate and Natural Resources, New Jersery Conservation Foundation
This painting is a response to the threat of the proposed PennEast pipeline. It is a threat to our community, our environment, our agricultural and cultural resources as well as global climate. I call it “The Climate Change Apocalypse.” It depicts how the places we call home, such as the Rosemont Valley, our global home, including Manhattan, and the glaciers and seas will be impacted by climate change if we cannot stop the use of fossil fuels and the proliferative infrastructure it brings.
Our community is fighting to defend our “peaceable kingdom.” This is why we are working together to stop PennEast and climate change before it is too late.
Opponents of controversial project say their resistance is rooted in a commitment to protecting communities, properties and property rights
When PennEast filed its application to build a 120-mile-long pipeline through Pennsylvania and New Jersey, every New Jersey township it touches passed a resolution in opposition.
Fifteen hundred people moved to intervene — a record-breaking number. Most of them are regular citizens: homeowners, farmers, single moms, retired couples, and small-business owners. Even though the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has conditionally approved the project, and even though land is being taken through eminent domain, they are not giving up.
Why all the fuss?
Here is a glimpse of why so many are so committed to stopping this pipeline:
1. The gas is not needed
A paramount question is whether this pipeline is even needed. Despite PennEast’s misleading claims, industry experts report that there is no public need for it. On the coldest winter days in 2018, there were 1.7 billion cubic feet of excess gas flowing out of New Jersey. With such an oversupply of gas, households will not save money by paying for a new billion-dollar pipeline.
2. It’s a money grab for PennEast’s owners
This is not a money-saver for consumers, but a cash cow for the pipeline owners, such as New Jersey Resources and South Jersey Industries. FERC guarantees them a whopping 14 percent return on investment. And it is the regular people who would be paying them — year after year. That’s why the New Jersey Rate Counsel, the state’s consumer watchdog agency, says this project is tantamount to offering a windfall of money to private enterprises while the consumers unfairly foot the bill.
3. Myth of new job opportunities
Building another pipeline disrupts Gov. Phil Murphy’s commitment to clean energy and the economic growth it brings. Nationally, jobs in clean energy are exceeding coal and gas by a five to one ratio. If PennEast is built, there would be months of temporary employment for mostly out-of-state construction workers, but virtually no permanent jobs in New Jersey, according to a study performed by experts at the Goodman Group.
4. Damage to environmentally sensitive, culturally rich region
In densely populated New Jersey, the two counties affected — Hunterdon and Mercer — are rural havens. The pipeline would affect many farms, conserved land, fruit orchards, and forests. Historic districts, endangered species, and some of the cleanest streams in the state are threatened by the construction and operation of this pipeline. In addition, the seizure of over 4,300 acres of preserved open space will undermine the integrity of the State Land Preservation Program. That’s why the state of New Jersey is suing.
5. Taking property for a project that may never be built
The U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment says private property should only be taken for a public need. PennEast is a project where the public doesn’t benefit nor has the project even been approved to be built. FERC has conditionally approved it, but many other agencies have not. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the Delaware River Basin Commission, and other federal agencies have the power to deny required permits. Once FERC grants a certificate to a project, courts typically grant the right of eminent domain. However, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal is appealing the seizure of state lands and is joined by homeowners, the New Jersey Rate Counsel and conservation groups in challenging FERC’s flawed certificate for PennEast.
6. Gas is not a clean fuel and pipelines are not safe
Over the past seven years, the nation’s natural-gas transportation network leaked 17.55 billion cubic feet of mostly methane gas. The Union of Concerned Scientists says that methane is 86 times stronger than CO2 at trapping heat. The PennEast pipeline also endangers our water by crossing 38 C-1 streams, hundreds of acres of wetlands and the Delaware River. Geologists say this region has bedrock which will likely release arsenic into our ground water and drinking water. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, over 11,500 clear-cut U.S. pipeline-related incidents occurred since 2000.
Polished rhetoric and PR materials from the project developers and its advocates won’t sway informed consumers. People will continue to passionately oppose a project that is unneeded, unwanted, and harmful to their communities, homes and planet.
Signed by The Trustees of Homeowners Against Land Taking (HALT-PennEast), a volunteer organization of several thousand impacted homeowners and their fellow citizens, committed to protecting their communities, properties and property rights.
Michael Heffler lives in Lambertville. He is an author engaged in community service.