Homeowners Claim PennEast Official has Major Conflict of Interest — February 21st 2019

Sixty concerned residents of NJ, including many homeowners directly impacted by the proposed PennEast pipeline have submitted a formal letter of complaint to New Jersey’s Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. They assert that Laurence Downes, CEO and Chairman of New Jersey Resources, a principle owner of PennEast, appears to have a significant conflict of interest given his official roles within the state of New Jersey while his company has a major proposal, the PennEast Pipeline proposal, before the state.

They cite that Mr. Downes has been appointed as Chairman of the Economic Development Authority which is worrisome because pipeline companies routinely tout the economic development that their projects will bring to a state or region as a reason for approving them. They go on to point out that Mr. Downes is also heading a committee to help finance the renovation of Drumthwacket, the governor’s mansion. They claim these roles position Mr. Downes as an “insider” at the same time his company (NJR) must obtain two critical Clean Water Act permits from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP) in order for it to be constructed.


Ros Westlake, from Delaware Township, New Jersey, one of the signers emphasized. “We are in no way alleging that any such favorable treatment has occurred (or will occur) from the administration, but the appearance of Mr. Downes possible conflict is glaring and disturbing.” TC and Joe Buchanan, other signers to the letter and owners of a small farm in Hunterdon County said, “We have been encouraged by Attorney General Grewal’s actions to protect NJ’s open space, as well as, the vigorous challenging of FERC’s flawed conditional approval of this unneeded pipeline and we want to make sure the light was shone on this obvious conflict of interest on the part of Mr. Downes.”

Michael Heffler, a homeowner from Lambertville, said, “It is only fair that we ask that Mr. Downes be required to step down from his role on the Economic Development Authority, the committee to renovate Drumthwacket, and any other prominent or influential role he holds in the State of New Jersey while his company’s applications are pending before state agencies”.

Various news outlets including Politico and TAPinto (Article) have reported on this homeowner action. In addition, several state and local political leaders have supported this action – the most recent being the Hunterdon County Board of Freeholders who have passed a resolution supporting HALT’s correspondence to the Attorney General on behalf of the homeowners. Freeholder Lanza noted that “the homeowners…are asking legitimate questions.” The Hunterdon County Board of Freeholders has also issued a press release. The PennEast proposal continues to receive strong opposition in spite of the fact the company was recently granted eminent domain by the US Federal Court, District of New Jersey.

Note:  Letter to the Attorney General & Hunterdon Freeholders resolution supporting HALT can be found on HALT’s website: https://haltpenneast.org

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