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.
On Wednesday, June 19, about 35 homeowners met with 4 presenters to discuss encouraging news.
The mantra of the meeting was “We are stopping this pipeline through our collective staying power”. Staying power which includes doing our homework, working with our many allies and communicating our findings and concerns to governmental authorities.
Here are some meeting “highlights”:
Young Voices of Encouragement. The meeting began with a 3 min clip by high school student, Yasemin Cag. (Full video called “Another Fracking’ Pipeline” is on the HALT website.) Homeowner attorney, Tim Duggan was featured who emphasized that the combined impact of PennEast’s highly environmentally-sensitive proposed path and the lack of proven need are key reasons for authorities to reject their application.
A New Scientific Risk to our Water has been identified. We had a short hard-hitting presentation by Dr Julia Barringer, retired senior scientistat theUS Geological Survey Agency. What her research has surfaced – besides the real threat of arsenic contamination – is an additional risk of radiation release from radon abundant in the rock bed in our area. This important fact has not been revealed by PennEast and will be added to our substantive list of technical reasons for not approving this pipeline.
Learnings from Mariner Pipeline – Eve Miari, Advocacy Coordinator, Clean Air Council gave a sobering presentation of the many broken promises and real damages to homes, neighborhoods, and water supply being caused by the Mariner Pipeline in nearby Pennsylvania. These were striking and attention-getting including the actual negative impact that horizontal directional drilling (HDD) is having on water contamination and the eruption of many destructive sink-holes occurring throughout the pipeline’s path. The Mariner fight is not over and we will use these learnings in our fight against PennEast.
Update on Eminent Domain case. Homeowner attorney, Tim Duggan said there was a Case Management Conference scheduled on June 24, 2019 to discuss the next steps in the case. Subsequently, the judge cancelled the meeting. Homeowners will be advised by their attorneys if the CMC is rescheduled and/or when the proposed discovery and hearing Order is entered. Also, Mr. Duggan mentioned that we are waiting for a decision from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on the State’s appeal of the illegality of private industry taking state land (see below).
Recent Eye-opening Developments. Tom Gilbert from the New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJCF) detailed 3 important recent events which will help us defeat PennEast:
On June 10th, NJ Assistant Attorney General Jeremy Fiegenbaum and attorneys for PennEast presented oral arguments before the 3rd Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. The assistant AG very effectively argued the State’s case that NJ and other states are immune from having their lands condemned by a private pipeline company under the 11th Amendment to the Constitution regarding the sovereign immunity of states. The panel of three judges seemed receptive to the State’s arguments. If the court rules in favor of the state, this will present a significant hurdle for PennEast regarding the more than 40 state properties that PennEast is seeking to condemn.
Earlier this month, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) denied multiple permits for the Transco NESE pipeline proposed to go under the Raritan Bay. In their decision, NJDEP used authority that we haven’t seen it exercise before, citing the company’s failure to show that wetlands and water resources won’t be harmed, the lack of a full alternatives’ analysis, and no public need/ public interest in NJ for the project. This bodes extremely well for PennEast opponents seeking denial of permits on similar grounds.
Two Mondays ago, the NJ Board of Public Utilities released their draft energy master plan to achieve 100% clean energy. The draft plan emphasizes renewables, energy efficiency, electric vehicles and the electrification of building heating (which currently is heavily reliant on gas). The NJBPU suggests this will all lead to a dramatic reduction in reliance on fossil fuels. A project like PennEast is very inconsistent with these goals and policies.
We are encouraged and at the same time remain vigilant to stay the course!
BREAKING: The Murphy administration just denied Williams Transco key permits to build a hotly contested pipeline and gas compressor station in Central New Jersey that could have polluted our air and threatened our clean waterways.
GREAT NEWS! Last night, Governor Murphy and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) denied several key permits for the Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) project, a dirty pipeline and gas compressor station that could have put the health and safety of New Jerseyans at risk.
Thousands of community members, elected officials, and local environmental groups spoke up and worked for years to block NESE, and last night’s victory wouldn’t have been possible without all of those voices speaking out.
The Murphy administration faced tremendous pressure from Williams Transco officials who repeatedly downplayed the project’s threats to our health, air quality, and water supply – and Williams has already vowed to re-apply. Let’s make sure that Governor Murphy and NJDEP hear loud and clear that New Jerseyans applaud their decision to put our families and clean energy future first so that they keep standing with us.
We’ve said time and time again how terrible the NESE project could be for our communities and the environment. The pipeline could seriously pollute the Raritan Bay, and the compressor station alone could emit toxins and cancer-causing chemicals into the air that can travel for miles and settle into the ground where our children play. On top of that, the project would perpetuate our dependence on dirty fossil fuels that threaten our health and climate and prevent us from making progress towards a clean energy future.
Since day one, Governor Murphy has outlined his plans for putting New Jersey on a path to realize 100% clean energy by 2050 and ensuring that New Jersey regains its title as a national leader in addressing the climate crisis. With last night’s action, the governor sent a clear message that New Jersey is strongly committed to ensuring a healthy environment for our families and supporting the good local jobs that will be created as we move toward a clean energy future and economy.
But Williams isn’t giving up. That’s why our immediate next step is to send a clear THANK YOU message to the governor and NJDEP, and tell them when Williams submits its next application, community members will keep fighting this project no matter what.
“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.