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The federal appeals court ruled today upholding New Jersey’s sovereign rights, which will halt, at least temporarily, the proposed PennEast natural gas pipeline slated for central New Jersey, according to The Watershed Institute.

This decision upends a federal trial court ruling in December 2018 giving PennEast possession of private and public lands for the proposed pipeline that would run through Hunterdon and Mercer counties in New Jersey.

In June, the state Attorney General’s office argued against PennEast’s condemnation of public lands, including those in which the state holds a public interest, before the federal Third Circuit of Appeals in Philadelphia.

Today’s groundbreaking appeals court decision found that New Jersey’s sovereign rights prohibit PennEast from condemning lands where the state holds easements or other property rights, including privately owned lands protected by the state Farmland Preservation or Green Acres Program.

The state of New Jersey, counties, municipalities, and non-profit organizations have spent billions of dollars over the past few decades to preserve farmlands, recreational lands, wildlife conservation lands and lands that provide important water supply and watershed protection.  These lands are legally protected from further development. The Watershed and other opponents of PennEast haveargued these important restrictions on preserved land cannot be ignored and are pleased the appeals court agrees with this argument.

This means that PennEast’s plans have been effectively halted in New Jersey until the backers consider a new route or new strategy for the construction of the proposed pipeline such as convincing the federal government to apply Natural Gas Act on behalf of the privately owned PennEast.

Even so, several hurdles still remain before construction would begin. Backers of PennEast still would have to convince the state Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) that the proposed pipeline wouldn’t adversely affect water quality standards under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act. The PennEast Pipeline Co. would also have to convince NJDEP that they are entitled to the required permits.

“This ruling is a great victory in the fight against PennEast,” said Jim Waltman, executive director of The Watershed Institute. “We stand poised ready to protect the safety of New Jersey’s waterways and environment.”

The Watershed Institute is dedicated to keeping Central New Jersey’s water clean, safe and healthy. Founded in 1949, The Watershed Institute protects and restores water and the environment through conservation, advocacy, science and education. For more information about the Watershed, www.thewatershed.org or call (609) 737-3735. 

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