The State of New Jersey today reinforced its commitment to its 60-year open space program by rejecting offer letters from PennEast Pipeline Co. to purchase rights to build a 36” gas pipeline across taxpayer-preserved lands. Since the program’s inception in 1969, no lands owned or managed by the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust (NJNLT) have been condemned through eminent domain, according to the NJNLT. (See this link for NJ’s rejection of offer letters from PennEast.)
Following the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) conditional approval of PennEast’s application, the company made final offers to acquire land rights from the state, land trusts and hundreds of landowners in the pipeline’s proposed path. PennEast set a deadline of February 5 for the offers, and stated that the private company will attempt to seize the lands through legal action if the offers are refused.
New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJ Conservation), the largest land trust within the densely populated state, applauded the State’s move and said today that it has also rejected PennEast’s offers to negotiate over the land NJ Conservation owns.
“The Murphy Administration has sent a clear message that it will uphold the integrity of preserved lands and the state programs that protect open space, farmland and historic sites for our children and grandchildren,” said Michele S. Byers, executive director, NJ Conservation. “New Jersey’s preserved open spaces were not set aside for unneeded fossil fuel infrastructure, but rather to protect our clean drinking water, air, and land that supports the overall quality of life in New Jersey.”
“Today, we reinforced the commitment to protect permanently preserved open spaces, by rejecting the offers from this destructive, unneeded gas pipeline,” said Tom Gilbert, campaign director, NJ Conservation. “We will never voluntarily surrender these lands to PennEast without a fight.”
FERC issued a certificate for PennEast despite criticism from the NJ Division of Rate Counsel and energy experts that there is no public need for the project. PennEast used the FERC Certificate to pressure landowners, including individual homeowners, the State, and NJ Conservation. FERC’s approval was conditioned on the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) review. On Friday, the NJDEP officially denied PennEast’s 2017 application, although PennEast may reapply.
PennEast’s construction plans would involve installing its pipeline across 4,300 acres of permanently preserved open space and farmland. PennEast is now expected to try to seize these lands through eminent domain.
If built, PennEast pipeline would damage thousands of acres of preserved lands, 38 of the state’s cleanest protected streams, and increase greenhouse gas emissions, according to FERC (pg. 77, Certificate).
In FERC’s Certificate decision, three of the five FERC Commissioners expressed concerns about the pipeline’s impacts to landowners. One Commissioner said he did not believe the pipeline is needed, and he criticized the Certificate process given its impacts to landowners along the 118-mile pipeline route due to PennEast’s anticipated use of that Certificate to condemn lands before the state’s environmental review takes place.
“NJDEP’s strong actions over past few days show us that they will protect preserved lands and fragile water supplies and other natural resources from PennEast, which cannot be constructed in a way that would meet New Jersey’s strict environmental standards,” said Jim Waltman, executive director, Stony Brook–Millstone Watershed Association.