Michael Heffler February 2017
When you grow up poor and move seventeen times because your family can’t pay the rent, you survive on hopes and dreams. If you work hard, have a determination, get a college education, a good job, save money, have the great good fortune to have a loving marriage it’s a triumph. If you also have a dream to buy a farm surrounding by beautiful country and your dream comes true, it’s a heck of a story.
Mike Plesher lived that life and had that dream. Mike was the Senior Reliability Engineer for the first moon camera that went on Apollo 13. The camera on the Tyros weather satellite orbiting Earth is named for Maryanne Plesher, his wife of over 50 years. Maryanne is the daughter of a Pennsylvania coal miner. She’s a biologist who was the product manager for the first ACE inhibitor, worked on some of the first beta-blockers in the 1970s and succeeded in a world where there were few professional women.
Maryanne is forthright and lively. When she walked me around the property she said: “Every day we spent here we were happy.” With that as context for a life well lived, without a hint of doubt in her voice, she then said that fighting the PennEast pipeline was the cause of her husband’s death. Mike had the focus you’d expect in a Senior Reliability Engineer, the focus needed to make certain video is transmitted from the moon. With the intelligence and focus that made him successful in his career, Mike began contacting legislators to educate them about PennEast and was unrelenting. Unfortunately his health failed before his efforts bore fruit.
Mike’s death forced Maryanne to put their dream house on the market; without his Social Security income she can’t afford to live there. Making a bad situation worse, the proposed pipeline route has deeply decreased the property value. Two years ago she received unsolicited offers that were over 300% higher than what she’s being offered now. No prospective buyer who’s found out about the pipeline has followed through with a firm offer.
Mike was fighting the possibility of a pipeline destroying the beautiful valley surrounding his dream house and having his property value plummet. The pipeline also creates the prospect of living in an incineration zone, the area within 900 feet of this pipeline. If the pipeline leaks gas and explodes everything, within 900 feet in all directions, would be destroyed by the explosion and flames. A pipeline explosion in California devastated a town and caused death, injury and illness to most town residents. Mike also fought because PennEast isn’t needed.
Like Mike and Maryanne, I worked for over 30 years and made a good living. I understand and benefitted from the profits those companies earned. I understand that optimizing profits leads to superior stock performance, bonuses for employees and better returns for investors. Profits help make dreams come true. Profits are more than justified when they add value to people’s lives. In PennEast’s case the pipeline isn’t needed, it’s adding cost, no value, and it’s damaging people’s lives.
The investors in PennEast are building the pipeline to get the 14% profit that the government guarantees for pipelines. What a deal! The truth these same investors are doing their best to hide is that according to the NJ Division of Rate Counsel, the state agency that regulates utility rates, NJ is 53% over-subscribed for natural gas for the next decade using existing pipelines. Simply stated, the gas will be transported to NJ without the PennEast pipeline.
PennEast’s investors are simply moving gas from a pipeline they don’t own to one they do. That 14% profit will come from the rates charged to everyone in NJ using natural gas. We’re forced to pay more and there’s no benefit to any of us.
Maryanne says that PennEast has increased its’ pressure on her. None of her neighbors has succumbed to PennEast’s offers to buy land or survey their land. PennEast has buzzed Maryanne’s house with helicopters and she feels they’re targeting her as a new widow. PennEast’s actions destroyed Maryanne and Mike’s dream. That ‘s strengthened her will to stand against them.
There’s a crisis of confidence in our public officials and in the fossil fuel industry. Fossil fuel companies are the largest polluters on the planet. They’re fighting to preserve their profits against the rising tide of renewable energy. They’re buying politicians to lie and say climate change is a hoax. They’ve learned from the tobacco industry that if they sow enough doubt they can continue making profits regardless of the damage they cause.
It isn’t only Mike and Maryanne Plesher’s dream that PennEast is needlessly ruining. It’s the lives and dreams of everyone who live on or near this pipeline. Do you want to trust a company that provides no value, wants many of us to reside in an incineration zone, lowers our property values and risks the safety of our communities? PennEast is a limited liability corporation. If there is a leak, an explosion, or widespread problems with our water supply PennEast will vanish into bankruptcy and we’ll be left to clean up the mess. PennEast plans to use eminent domain to take away people’s property. Eminent domain, the taking of private property for the public good, should actually be for the public good.
It’s a tough battle. If you want to join the fight please join or contribute to HALT PennEast, Rethink NJ Energy, NJ Sierra Club, or the Delaware RiverKeeper.
This is part of a series of articles about the communities and people whose lives will be affected by the proposed PennEast pipeline.
About Michael Heffler
Michael Heffler is a Businessman (retired), Author, Bicycling Enthusiast and member of the HALT PennEast Board of Trustees. He resides in Lambertville, NJ.