Opinion Piece by Tom Gilbert, For the Inquirer
Published May 19, 2021
It was newsworthy when South Jersey Industries announced a plan to eventually eliminate its greenhouse gas emissions. But there’s a hitch.
Last month, South Jersey Industries (SJI) — a utility company that serves 700,000 customers — announced that it plans to be carbon neutral by 2040. For proponents of clean energy like me, this should have been an exciting, encouraging development.
But there is a big fly in their clean energy ointment: the proposed PennEast gas pipeline.
Like other utility companies in New Jersey and across the nation, SJI knows that dirty fossil fuels are on the way out. Customers want safe, clean energy sources like wind and solar. Over the next several decades, those sources will replace natural gas and other fossil fuels.
So it was newsworthy when SJI announced a plan to reduce and eventually eliminate its emission of greenhouse gases that worsen the unsafe, unhealthy impacts of climate change.
But the company’s ongoing financial support of the proposed PennEast pipeline undermines the worthy goal they are embracing.
PennEast is a proposed 120-mile natural gas pipeline to transport gas from fracking sites in Eastern Pennsylvania across the Delaware River through towns in Hunterdon and Mercer Counties in New Jersey. SJI has an ownership stake in the project — which could cost roughly $1 billion — and would also be a customer, buying gas from the pipeline to service its own customers.
But according to the N.J. Rate Counsel, supply and demand requirements can be met through existing arrangements, even during extreme weather. In other words, PennEast is “a solution in search of a problem” — we don’t need an additional pipeline.
This project would also have detrimental impacts. According to a 2019 report by the Cadmus Group, prepared for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, it would result in increased emissions of harmful greenhouse gas. The PennEast pipeline could also contaminate public water systems and wells, and disrupt acres of land, resulting in an estimated $43 million loss in ecosystem services. The construction will disturb wildlife and their habitats, including areas critical for many species of birds. A 2017 analysis by Key-Log Economics said the pipeline may also reduce property values by tens of millions of dollars.
Residents from New Jersey municipalities in its path have spoken out opposing PennEast, backed up by elected officials from both parties. The state of New Jersey has blocked key easements on properties in which the state has an interest, including land preserved for conservation, agriculture, or recreation, which the PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC claims is illegal; the case has now reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments from both sides last month.
By positioning itself as a carbon-neutral company while continuing to support the PennEast pipeline, SJI is essentially going to the store to buy a nicotine patch and a carton of cigarettes. Are you serious about quitting, or not?
SJI wouldn’t be the first company wanting to have it both ways by planting one foot in the future while keeping the other in the past, and seeking an environmentally sensitive public image in the process. When a company misleads the public about its environmental practices, it’s called “greenwashing.”
It would be a lot easier to give SJI credit if the company would “come clean,” literally and figuratively. It’s hypocritical to seek praise for environmental initiatives while seeking to build an unneeded fossil gas pipeline that would increase harmful emissions, potentially damage private and public lands, and threaten critical water and wildlife resources. As laudable as the goal of being carbon neutral by 2040 is, it’s inconsistent with building an environmentally destructive fossil fuel pipeline that would be in operation well beyond that date.
If SJI wants to be a good corporate citizen and as green as its public relations campaign touts, it will give up its interest in the PennEast pipeline.
Tom Gilbert is the campaign director for ReThink Energy NJ, a nonprofit organization that supports a swift transition to clean, efficient, renewable energy.
Access the article from it’s original publication site: The Philadelphia Inquirer
APRIL REPORT TO CARBON COUNTY STAKEHOLDERS
By SAVE CARBON COUNTY
PennEast/UGI Pipeline Project- Prepared 4/30
A landmark United Nations report is expected to declare that
reducing emissions of methane, the main component of natural
gas, will be a critical step in achieving a near immediate
slowdown in the rate of global warming. The reason methane
reductions would be particularly effective in the short-term fight
against climate change is that while methane is an extremely potent
greenhouse gas, it is also relatively short-lived, lasting just a decade
or so in the atmosphere. That means cutting new methane emissions
today could more quickly help the world meet its midcentury targets
for fighting global warming. By contrast, carbon dioxide, the main
greenhouse gas, lasts for hundreds of years in the atmosphere. So,
while it remains critical to keep reducing carbon dioxide emissions
because they make up the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions,
it would take until the end of the century to see any climate effects
from these changes.
Furthermore, while reductions to carbon dioxide emissions would
require sweeping changes to the economy, methane reductions can be
achieved at little cost to the economy. A large part of the methane in
the atmosphere comes from leaks from oil and gas infrastructure. In
fact, recent studies have shown that the oil and gas industry play a
much larger part in putting methane into our atmosphere than was
previously thought. Fixing those leaks should pay for itself by
capturing gas that can then be sold. That potential means that
plugging leaks from wells, pipelines and compressors can be the
cheapest and fastest way to slow the impact of climate changing
emissions on our environment. The U.N. report also underscores how
reducing methane emissions may bring significant health benefits as
well. Pennsylvania is the second largest source of methane emissions
in the United States. A concerted effort at reduction here would make
a huge difference but the industry has opposed even moderate
proposals from the Wolf administration.
Save Carbon County is a member of a regional and two-state effort to stop the PennEast/UGI pipeline.
Local information can be found on FaceBook at “Stop the Fracking Pipeline.” Regional Information can be found on FaceBook at “Stop PennEast Pipeline.