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.
Some good news! The Third Circuit Court of Appeals granted the State of New Jersey a partial stay, and expedited its appeal. This poses yet another problem for PennEast.
The State had asked the Court of Appeals to “stay” the cases where the State is a defendant until a decision was made. The Court of Appeals ruled that surveys and testing can proceed, but no construction is permitted pending the Court’s decision – this relates to state-owner properties, only. The order states — “…physical construction of the pipeline shall be stayed pending this appeal. Additionally, the just compensation portion of the litigation is stayed pending this appeal.”
Although this relates only to the 40-some state-owned properties on the route it aids all homeowners. While surveys and testing can continue, this partial stay will hamper PennEast from moving forward at full speed. It also provides more reason for FERC to delay decisions because the route and outcome of the stay are unknown.
This court decision, along with the question of PennEast’s permissibility to cross the Appalachian Trail without congressional approval (reported in the most recent HALT newsletter), raises uncertainty for PennEast and FERC.
HALT Member Meeting Next Week
HALT’s monthly meeting will be held on Wednesday, March 27, 2019, 7:30 pm at the Prallsville Mill. Updates and next steps will be discussed.
It appears that Congress must pass legislation in order for a gas pipeline to cross the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (“Appalachian Trail”), which is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. In its Application to Amend its Certificate, PennEast filed a route change affecting where the proposed pipeline would cross the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania. In its comment, HALT referred to the recent 4th Circuit Court decision that blocked the Atlantic Coast Pipeline from crossing the Appalachian Trail, even though the pipeline was going to be bored deep below the surface so that trees would not be cut.
In light of these legal developments, this makes crossing the Appalachian Trial by PennEast a national issue. It appears that FERC, the National Park Service, and state agencies cannot make this decision. It’s up to Congress to decide.
In addition, HALT states that the PennEast’s Application to Amend its Certificate cannot be granted by July 1, 2019, as PennEast requested. This is because HALT filed a petition for review in 2018 that challenges the validity of the certificate FERC issued to PennEast. Under the Natural Gas Act, the D.C. Circuit has to issue an order before FERC can amend PennEast’s certificate.
However, even if FERC prevails in court, the pipeline cannot be constructed unless Congress explicitly grants permission to PennEast for its pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail.
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.