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.
There have been some positive developments in the fight against the PennEast pipeline and there are a number of key court cases and amendments requested by PennEast that create suspense and require our continued vigilance.
Anne Marie Garti, the attorney engaged by HALT to contest FERC’s decision (which granted PennEast eminent domain rights) presented information on the upcoming cases and answered member questions.
First the good news!
Last September, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit decided that NJ has sovereign immunity, which means PennEast cannot sue the state to take its land. This effectively blocked PennEast from moving forward in NJ as its proposed route includes about 40 parcels of state-owned land.
This month, the Constitution pipeline, which was approved by FERC in 2014 to cross PA and NY, was abandoned by the pipeline company. This was in large part due to the strategies and legal arguments developed by Anne Marie. For all of us new to fighting pipelines, this is incredibly encouraging news. These fights can be won.
Nine of the towns along the proposed NJ route of the PennEast pipeline have joined the Hunterdon Area Energy Coop to reduce the residents’ cost of electricity and to increase the percentage of renewables in our electricity, thus reducing the percentage of natural gas. This has the potential to take over $1 million out of the pockets of the PennEast investors next year.
Second, the pending court cases and requested changes to the Certificate!
PennEast is trying to appeal the 3rd Circuit Court’s decision to the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court decides not to hear the case, it is unlikely that the PennEast pipeline can be rerouted around state owned land in NJ. If the Supreme Court takes the case, a decision is not likely until the winter of 2020-21. Even though PennEast has hired a very high-profile lawyer who recently presented his 100th case before the Supreme Court, NJ’s Attorney General, who won the case in the 3rdCircuit, has a great track record of very effective advocacy.
FERC supported PennEast’s request for a Supreme Court hearing. There have been many organizations, including EDF, Delaware Riverkeeper, and others, who submitted briefs supporting NJ.
PennEast asked FERC for a two-year extension to construct the pipeline and FERC, as expected, granted the request.
On January 30, 2020, PennEast asked FERC to amend its Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (Certificate) so it can build the project in two phases. The first phase would be entirely in PA and PennEast wants FERC to approve this request by October 2020. While clever, Anne Marie suggests that it’s probably illegal to amend the original Certificate in this manner and that PennEast should apply for a new one. Nonetheless, given FERC’s history of granting pipeline developers whatever they want, FERC may overlook this interpretation of the law. HALT members can intervene with FERC through 5 pm on Wednesday, March 4, 2020.
The ugly truth is that as long as FERC has a majority of former and future fossil fuel lobbyists running it, landowners will not get a fair hearing from FERC. However, we will continue to stand united with the NJDEP and the NJ Attorney General. We should remain hopeful because there is now hard proof that pipelines like this can be defeated! We will persevere!
Excerpt:“PennEast has created a new project that they are calling Phase 1. FERC has accepted the application and granted a new docket number (CP20-47). This is a project to build 68 miles of the original route through PA. This is a PA-only pipeline that follows the originally proposed route but ends in Bethlehem Twp. where it will connect to the Adelphia Gateway Project which is another pipeline project with a separate docket number (CP18-46).”
Excerpt: “As noted in last month’s report, PennEast Pipeline has asked FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) for an extension of two more years in which to get the project operational. FERC has not yet scheduled a hearing on the extension request.“
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.