N.J. Power Company Can’t Truly Go Green and Hang Onto Controversial Pipeline

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.

Alix Bacon adjusts an anti-pipeline placard in January 2015 in Hunterdon County, N.J., near where the proposed PennEast pipeline, considered in April by the U.S. Supreme Court, would cross the road. CREDIT: CLEM MURRAY

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.

The project would deliver a billion cubic feet of fracked gas daily, which proponents argue would serve millions of homes, create thousands of jobs, and lower energy bills for 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 2021 Report To Stakeholders

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.

April HALT Update

APRIL UPDATE

We hope you are all keeping well. Please find a number of updates and important information below. Please take the time to read and note there are two specific actions we are asking of you at this time. We look forward to seeing you virtually during our April member’s meeting – details to follow.

SCOTUS Update:

1)  Oral arguments to be heard on April 28th at 11am. You can listen live on http://www.cspan.org

2)   All briefings and filings have now concluded.

3)   A decision is expected sometime during June 2021. If you would like to access any of the filings regarding this case, they are available at the following https://www.supremecourt.gov/search.aspx?filename=/docket/docketfiles/html/public/19-1039.html directly on the Supreme Court Website. They are sorted by date.

FERC Update:

1)      On February 18, 2021 FERC issued a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) regarding the Certification of Interstate Natural Gas Facilities, Docket PL18-1-000.  This is a revival of an NOI from 2018.  At that time, over 3,000 comments were received from stakeholders, but FERC took no action.  Under its new Chairperson, Richard Glick, FERC is expanding its initial inquiry to reflect changes promulgated by executive orders, regulations and statutes, and to build on the existing record. 

2)      There is no need to resubmit comments from the 2018 docket.  New information, suggestions and examples are the goal of this inquiry.

3)      You can find potential comment points and instructions courtesy of NJCF via this link https://www.dropbox.com/s/hub6r9mbq9ceisq/FERC.Comment.Instructions.2021.pdf?dl=0  The deadline for comments on this docket is May 26th, 2021. We are specifically requesting that you file comments on this docket before the deadline.

4)      FERC has launched an Office of Public Participation (OPP). More information on this Office and its launch process can be found here: https://www.ferc.gov/news-events/events/workshop-regarding-creation-office-public-participation-04162021. If you want to comment on this issue – the deadline is Friday, April 23rd. Instructions for filing can be found at the above link. This is a ‘nice to have’ request. The NOI request above is much more important.

5)      FERC reform bills – currently there are a few pending bills in committee stage in both chambers of congress. Rep. Watson Coleman has introduced HR2115 with Rep. Malinowski and others as co-sponsors. Please contact your elected representatives (Senate and House) to encourage them to request the reform bills be taken up at the Committee level to advance.

6)      As a reminder the PennEast Amended Certificate docket was removed from the January agenda and has not been rescheduled. Based upon comments by the commissioners, this may be held until the consolidated case in the 3rd Circuit is resolved. The consolidated case is held in abeyance until the resolution of the SCOTUS case.

Elected Officials Update:

1)  Visits to homeowners.  Rep. Malinowski visited 6 affected properties during the past two weeks. We took this opportunity to discuss a number of topics. An update will be shared during the April Member’s Meeting.

2)  Letter to Biden Administration. Rep. Malinowski is planning to send a letter to the Biden Administration regarding the Solicitor General’s Brief, the treatment of landowners, and the lack of need for this project. Rep. Malinowski will be reaching out to the new EPA administration in Washington to bring them up to date on PennEast and request they focus on the critical environmental and related impacts

3)  CAPs efforts to introduce Township Resolutions. Lambertville CAP committee is introducing a resolution at the next City Council meeting calling upon our elected officials (state and federal) to state their position on the pipeline and reaffirm their opposition. Draft language will be shared to all local CAPs to pursue within other townships and communities.

4)  CAP Webinar.  A Multi-CAP update zoom webinar was held on April 20th with Lambertville as the organizer and host. A recording of the session can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTdsKHR_1lI

PA DEP:  No recent updates.

DRBC Update: Application is under review – no recent updates. Comments are still being accepted via email at penneastapp@drbc.gov. The project page is  https://www.nj.gov/drbc/programs/project/penneast.html

NJ DEP:  No current valid application submitted. No update.

February 2021 Report To Stakeholders

FEB. REPORT TO CARBON COUNTY STAKEHOLDERS

By SAVE CARBON COUNTY

PennEast/UGI Pipeline Project- Prepared 3/1/2021

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of PennEast v. New Jersey.
This case will answer the question if a private company, such as PennEast, can
use eminent domain against a state. Briefs from PennEast are due today. The
case will be heard in April with a decision expected in June. If PennEast wins,
they will likely resume their original efforts to build a 118-mile pipeline to Trenton.
Landowners would have preferred that the lower court ruling stand.
There is congressional movement to reform FERC (Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission).
Since over 99% of pipelines are approved by FERC,
homeowners have long believed that their concerns are not given due
consideration. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have introduced “The
Pipeline Fairness, Transparency, and Responsible Development Act of 2020.”
And Congressman Jeremy Raskin of Maryland is also working to introduce a
House version of FERC reform legislation. The reforms will address the unfair
treatment of landowners by FERC.
On Thursday Feb. 24th , The DRBC (Delaware River Basin Commission)
voted to adopt a permanent ban on fracking within the watershed.
All four
state representatives voted for the ban. At the present, this ban will allow water
withdrawals for fracking and will allow treated fracking wastewater to be returned
to the river. However, the withdrawals and importations of wastewater are also
being reviewed by the Commission. A single fracking well pad can require up to
a million gallons of water for operation, so the withdrawal of water is an important
consideration for the industry.
This ban applies to the entire basin which drains 13,539 sq. miles, about half of
which is in Pennsylvania. The fracking ban would affect the Pocono region and
other northeastern counties that sit entirely or partly over Marcellus Shale
deposits. These counties are Carbon, Monroe, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Pike,
Schuylkill, and Wayne.
This decision does not affect the PennEast pipeline because the pipeline will
draw its gas from counties to our northwest. However, the willingness of the
Commission to take such sweeping action to protect the watershed is
encouraging to environmentalists and PennEast-impacted landowners.
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.”

February HALT Update – February 12th, 2021

FEBRUARY UPDATE

We hope this finds you healthy, happy, and full of energy just waiting to be spent.

We have had a long respite from our hard work to stop PennEast but we are now entering the final chapters of this saga. Now is the time to rally everything we’ve got and finally send PennEast into the wastebin of bad ideas.

We will meet virtually at 7:30pm on Wednesday, February 24th to discuss the current steps and action items. The meeting invite with Zoom details will follow in a separate email.

We hope you will join us and help finally stop this PennBeast! Together we WILL stop this unwanted, unneeded, toxic pipeline and destruction of our land, water and constitutional rights. Let’s stand united stronger than ever!

Here are the recent updates:

The Supreme Court Case

The following update is provided courtesy of NJCF as a party to this case.

The Supreme Court granted PennEast’s petition for certiorari (asking the Court to review the Third Circuit decision), and the following briefing schedule has been established:

– PennEast’s brief is due March 1, 2021;

– Respondents (State, NJCF) file March 31st.

– Oral argument is anticipated for the Court’s second argument week in April.

Jennifer Danis, of counsel to the Columbia Environmental Law Clinic, is currently counsel of record for NJCF in this proceeding. Originally, the Stanford Supreme Court Litigation Clinic was going to be co-counsel for this representation, but two of their three lawyers left to go into the new administration. They recommended seeking replacement co-counsel with the firm of Donahue, Goldberg, Weaver & Littleton — specifically, David Goldberg and Matt Littleton. This private law firm is composed of white-hat Supreme Court litigators (and former clerks), that has a significant public interest practice. They have offered to co-counsel with Columbia Environmental Law Clinic. This partnership will ensure that NJCF is well-represented, and help guide this case towards the best possible outcome. This case is rife with thorny constitutional issues, and this constellation of counsel is excited for the adventure!

FERC Amendment Application

During the January 2021 meeting – the PennEast application was on the agenda. The item was pulled from the agenda during the meeting by Commissioner Chatterjee. He specifically said, “…commenters in this proceeding have raised concerns that action on this amendment would run afoul of the Natural Gas Act’s prohibition on modifying or setting aside orders that are currently before the court. I’m still considering arguments. I’ve always tried to tread carefully to ensure the commission does not run afoul of that prohibition”.

GREAT JOB COMMENTERS!

Further, two days later, the Biden administration elevated Commissioner Glick to the Chairman role on FERC. Two new commissioners have been sworn in now as well: Mark Christie and Allison Clements. The PRPC (Property Rights and Pipeline Center) is currently working to secure landowner discussions with the new commissioners. HALT is supportive of this effort and are working to get HALT members into the meetings as possible.

PA DEP

The Pennsylvania DEP has yet to decide upon the clean water permits required for Phase 1. Save Carbon County helped organize over 70 commenters at PA DEP open hearing last month (GREAT JOB!).

DRBC – ACTION REQUESTED

DRBC is now moving forward with evaluating the PennEast application. This is our current focus area! The DRBC is attentive to the concerns of the public and we can have an impact.

Please send further comments to penneastapp@drbc.nj.gov. As previously shared, while there is no official cutoff for comments, please send your comments by the end of this week (February 14th). Please use your own words or select from a few selections below (courtesy of Linda Christman).

  • In June of this year, Mike Spille sent a letter to the DRBC that contained a thorough analysis of the PennEast Pipeline application. That analysis pointed out 32 substantive problems with the application. The PennEast application is unprofessional and sub-standard and should be rejected as such.
  • The PennEast project substantially negatively impacts the watershed and conflicts with the DRBC Comprehensive Plan due to its significant disturbance of ground cover and water resources. Given these impacts, the DRBC must use its full jurisdictional authority encompassing the full project impact in considering the PennEast application.
  • PennEast has resisted submitting to DRBC authority and has maintained that the Phase I project is not subject to DRBC review and approval but Phase I is submitted as a phased construction of the originally certificated project and the entire project and the total project impacts must be considered by DRBC. This project should not be considered in a piece-meal fashion.

LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING YOUR “VIRTUALLY”  WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 24 @ 7:30

(Zoom details to follow)