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Flawed pipeline approval process needs reforms
8/5/2016

This state we're in is confronting a new form of sprawl: the proliferation of new oil and gas pipeline proposals. And there’s no effective system in place to evaluate their cumulative impacts, or whether they are truly needed and in the public interest.

Despite this flawed and broken system, individual gas pipeline proposals are marching ahead throughout our state leaving the public shortchanged by a federal agency that should be protecting our citizens and communities 

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) just released a woefully inaccurate, incomplete and premature draft environmental impact report  on the proposed PennEast gas pipeline, which would slash through thousands of acres of preserved lands and more than 30 high quality streams in Hunterdon and Mercer counties that supply drinking water.

Despite the overwhelming lack of critical data in the report, FERC concluded that the 118-mile pipeline from northeastern Pennsylvania through New Jersey’s Hunterdon and Mercer counties would have a “less-than-significant” impact on the environment.

How it reached that conclusion with so little documentation and basic data is both an outrage and a mystery. Absent from the report are large chunks of information on impacts to geology, cultural resources, stream crossings, species of special concern, springs and wells, vernal pools, farms, wetlands and forests.

FERC and the NJ Department of Environmental Protection have repeatedly asked for documentation on water wells within 150 feet of the proposed line. This baseline information is critical to calculating potential harms to drinking water. Despite the fact that this information is readily available PennEast has yet to supply it to FERC.

In fact, FERC’s environmental report concludes with a long list of outstanding data, studies and plans to be submitted by PennEast before the close of the comment period or before construction. This will prevent the public from commenting on new and significant environmental impacts before a final decision is made 

To make matters worse, the public has a very small window to review FERC’s 1,000-plus page report and get in their comments. The deadline is Monday, September 12.

In response to the enormous shortcomings of FERC’s process, Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman has proposed legislation to toughen FERC oversight and require the agency to examine public need and cumulative impacts of pipeline proposals.

“The recent proliferation of new pipeline proposals and their impact on communities raise serious questions about how many of these expensive fossil fuel infrastructure projects are actually needed and calls into question the rigor of FERC’s review process,” said Rep. Watson Coleman. “FERC must enforce a more cautious, holistic approach to considering these projects.”

Now is the time for New Jersey residents to learn more about this threat to our state. Several pipeline proposals threaten the internationally significant Pinelands National Reserve and it is highly likely that additional pipelines will be proposed for other parts of New Jersey. New Jersey’s acclaimed and successful taxpayer -funded open space preservation program would be eroded and undermined if proposals like the PennEast pipeline and others gain approval. Once approved, the private pipeline companies can take the land they want by eminent domain on preserved farms and forests, as well as on the lands of many homeowners.

Please speak out against this flawed process which would allow large private industrial energy projects to go forward despite the lack of proven public need, seriously flawed data, and a badly broken public process. Please urge Norman C. Bay, chairman of FERC, to withdraw the environmental report on the PennEast pipeline. 

To send a message, go to  act.njconservation.org/FERCcomment.

You can also take action by attending one of FERC’s public meetings on the PennEast pipeline:

  • Tuesday, August 16, 2016,6-10 pm, Holiday Inn Clinton-Bridgewater, Hunterdon Ballroom, 111 W Main Street, Clinton, NJ 08809   
  • Wednesday, August 17, 2016, 6-10 pm, Patriots Theater at War Memorial, George Washington Ballroom, 1 Memorial Drive, Trenton, NJ 08608   

In addition you can send your comments to FERC by the September 12th deadline. For advice on how to write and submit an effective letter or to find out information about four additional FERC public meetings in Pennsylvania, go to  www.rethinkenergynj.org.

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

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