At a packed West Trenton Ballroom Wednesday night, FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) hosted its only scoping meeting for the PennEast pipeline project in Mercer County, the first of only two in New Jersey. MercerMe covered much of it live.
Hundreds of concerned individuals attended to speak publicly, serving as formal testimony to FERC for consideration during PennEast’s application process. Testimony and attendees were overwhelmingly anti-pipeline with a handful of pro-pipeline utility and labor union representatives.
Mercer County’s elected officials kicked off the evening including Senator Shirley Turner, Assemblywoman Liz Muoio, Mercer County Freeholder Andrew Koontz, Mercer County Freeholder Lucy Walter, Hopewell Township Mayor Harvey Lester, West Amwell Mayor George Fisher, Hopewell Township Committee member Kevin Kushinski, and Hopewell Township Committee member John Hart, who also spoke both as an elected official and farmer.
“Applying eminent domain is more than a loss of value, it is a loss of the American dream,” said Senator Shirley Turner, “This pipeline threatens clean water supplies, fish and wildlife, and the health of every individual who relies on these water sources.”
Objections were largely ones regarding environmental damage, along with the sensitivity and value of preserved land that the pipeline would dissect including Baldpate Mountain, Howell Living History Farm, Mercer County Equestrian Center, and Rosedale Park.
“For many years, people of this district have dedicated millions of tax dollars — in good economic times and bad — for open space that makes a stated commitment to use dollars to PRESERVE these areas,” said LD-15 Assemblywoman Liz Muoio, “And to preserve means ‘to maintain something in its original state and free from harm or injury.’ …These were the indented effect of open space referendums. What was NOT the effect was that this would be used as a self-serving guide for a pipeline company to best determine where they can lay their tracks.”
Farmers spoke about likely decreases in farming yields and crop options including a farmer whose 200 year old farmhouse would be threatened by the project. Environmentalists spoke about effects on migratory birds, nesting/breeding sites for wildlife, as well as the necessity for continuous forrest for maintenance of native floral and fauna — not to mention the irreparable damage to rural character in effected areas.
University professors spoke about health effects from gas extraction and pipe installation including potential arsenic pollution in well water.
Public safety, in the case of a gas leak, was of major concern with several speakers referencing the multitude of recent gas explosions resulting in injury and fatality.
Many supported a no-action/no build option, in that they did not support the installation of the pipeline in any location at all. A few recommended co-location along existing utility right of ways.
“It threatens our safety, it is a blowtorch to the ground, ruins tourism, and ruins our economy — those jobs are not permanent,” said NJ Sierra Club executive director Jeff Tittel. “And the gas will be sent out of the country. If you take a razorblade to a sweater, it might be a little cut but it ruins the sweater. The only alternative is the NO BUILD alternative. We do not need this pipeline. We do not need this gas. Stay the FERC out of my valley!”
Some speakers suggested that, rather than FERC assessing this single project in isolation, FERC should consider this project holistically in light of existing and proposed upcoming pipelines.
“Our organization is not just alarmed but outraged by the proposed PennEast pipeline. There would be irreparable harm on the area using literally tens of millions of public tax payer money,” said Jim Waltman, Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association executive director. “FERC should call a time-out and initiate a programatic impact statement to look comprehensively at all the pipelines throughout the region.”
Who the gas would actually serve was part of the conversation. Elizabethtown Gas president Brian MacLean said that that project would provide greater flexibility and reliability of natural gas. “This new source of supply would result in gas cost savings,” said MacLean.
Meanwhile, not everyone agrees with the benefit.
“When we looked at fracked shale gas, there is a near 5 years of supply in the United States and assuming all the gas will remain in this country but that is not something we can assume at all,” said the Delaware Riverkeeper Maya vanRossum. “PennEast is not obligated to keep this gas in the US and it is worth more abroad.”
The mood of the evening could be characterized as “barely civil” with plenty of shouting from the audience in support or opposition to the offered testimony. At one point, a representative from FERC threatened to end the scoping meeting well before the intended time because, she said, people were speaking out of turn. But overall, attendees were supportive and respectful expressing anti-pipeline sentiments for 5 hours — from 6pm-11pm.