Amid growing opposition from residents and key government agencies, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) today announced a second delay in its schedule for reviewing the proposed PennEast pipeline. The date for issuance of the final environmental impact statement was postponed to February 17, 2017 from December 16, 2016, as acknowledged by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
FERC also sent the company a substantial request for 46 sets of new data and demanded 34 corrections to PennEast’s application to build a 118-mile gas pipeline through New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In several cases, FERC notes that PennEast’s maps are outdated, incorrect, and incomplete. In a letter dated November 4, FERC told PennEast it must comply with the request within 20 days.
FERC also added a new 30-day public comment period for its Draft Environmental Impact Study (DEIS) on PennEast due to numerous route changes proposed by PennEast after the close of the DEIS comment period.
“Growing opposition, delays, and major red flags from federal and state agencies show that this ill-advised pipeline is certainly in jeopardy,” said Tom Gilbert, campaign director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation and ReThink Energy NJ. “There is so little data on which to base PennEast’s application, FERC had no choice but to delay the review.”
“Opponents of the PennEast pipeline should take heart that FERC is responding to the overwhelming opposition from the public and significant concerns raised by other agencies,” Gilbert added. “Clearly, this project only serves the gas companies affiliated with PennEast, which has been flat-out misleading to the public throughout its review process.”
The New Jersey utilities that have signed contracts for gas through PennEast are PSE&G, South Jersey Gas, New Jersey Natural Gas, and Elizabethtown Gas. Their owner companies – PSEG, South Jersey Industries, New Jersey Resources, and Southern Co. Gas, respectively – are also the owners of PennEast. The New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel has said the project would be unfair to consumers, and that FERC should not accept these “self-dealing” contracts as evidence of need for the project.
Among the numerous requirements from FERC to PennEast is a request to examine various alternative routes and for significant additional data and consultation previously requested by federal and state agencies including the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
“It’s outrageous that FERC has not required PennEast to explore ‘no build’ alternatives to avoid significant harm to protected land, high-quality streams, wildlife, and wetlands,” said Jim Waltman, executive director, Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association. “Ample evidence exists from experts, including the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel, that the PennEast pipeline is not needed for future supply or demand for gas.”
“FERC still has not addressed the fact that the PennEast docket lacks the data to show that the project is needed,” said Jennifer Danis, senior staff lawyer, Eastern Environmental Law Center. “By failing to ask for additional information related to need, FERC continues to ignore the requirements of both the National Environmental Policy Act and the Natural Gas Act. We have asked FERC to hold an evidentiary hearing to analyze whether there is any need for the pipeline. If there is no need, there should be no pipeline.”
Shaken by strong criticism from federal and state regulators and facing ever-growing bipartisan opposition to the pipeline, PennEast recently modified the pipeline route. The modifications were filed after the initial comment period concluded for FERC’s DEIS – preventing public input on the route changes.
“The hastily proposed and ill-conceived modifications to the route don’t come close to addressing the irreparable damage that PennEast would cause, and in each case, the route changes simply shift the impact from one place to another,” Gilbert said. “There is no acceptable route for the unneeded PennEast pipeline.”
“The public now has another chance to voice its opposition. All concerned citizens – not just affected landowners, as FERC tries to imply – should use this new comment period to continue to point out the issues with the route changes and the lingering fundamental flaws with the DEIS that still haven’t been addressed,” continued Waltman. “Unfortunately, 30 days is not nearly enough time for a substantive review of such a massive project, but the outpouring of comments we have seen is clearly working,” said Waltman.
Last month, FERC also delayed its environmental review of the proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline due to a similar dearth of significant data and following submission of route changes after a public comment period.