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PennEast Gets Eminent Domain- Battle Continues


by Jeff Tittel, NJ Sierra Club, 

Federal court has granted PennEast the use of eminent domain to gain access to properties to do survey work. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Guest opinion
granted of a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the PennEast Pipeline project. This decision by FERC allows PennEast to use eminent domain to get on property where they need data for applications. FERC made their decision last January and issued an order denying a rehearing in August.

 “This is not just the beginning of the end, this is the end of the beginning. The next round in the battle to stop PennEast starts now. Although we expected it, it is still wrong that court has gave PennEast access to get on people’s property. The granting of eminent domain will PennEast to do surveys on homeowner’s land so that they can reapply for permits with the DEP and DRBC. This is only round, we shouldn’t be disheartened because this is just Round 3 of a 12-Round Fight. With this court ruling, the battle is now with Governor Murphy and his Administration who will need to deny these new permit applications to stop this unneeded and dangerous project from being built,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This is why Governor Murphy must put a moratorium on all fossil fuel infrastructure and powerplants until New Jersey can regulate CO2 and replace Flood Hazard and Wetlands Rules that make it easier to build pipelines.”

The PennEast Pipeline is 110-mile pipeline that will bring natural gas from the Marcellus Region of Pennsylvania through Hunterdon and Mercer Counties in New Jersey. The pipeline will be cutting through communities, preserved open space, and farmland. Since being issues a Certificate, the company has sent 100’s of letters to Hunterdon County homeowners suing them for eminent domain. Many of these homeowners have gone to court to fight to fight them so that the judge can limit PennEast’s ability to get on their property.

“PennEast moves forward and we will fight back and stop this! We’ve been fighting PennEast for over four years and they thought it would be long built by now. We want to thank the landowners who denied them access and those who took them to court to fight it. Over 70% of landowners along the project route denied them access. This is how we’ve slowed down this project for three years and will continue to slow it until it’s stopped. The longer it takes, the more of a chance we have to stop the project,” said Jeff Tittel.

Besides missing their state and federal permits, PennEast still does not have approval from the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC). PennEast’s application process to the DRBC could take up to a year and if rejected the DRBC could help stop the pipeline. This is the second time this month that the Commission has raised issues with PennEast. They have also urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to prohibit tree felling within the boundaries of the Delaware River Watershed for pipeline projects like the proposed PennEast Pipeline.

“Even though we lost this court case, the DRBC also has the power to stop PennEast Pipeline. So far, the Commission has not moved forward with any of PennEast’s applications. The pipeline would put many waterways at risk and the DRBC should deny them any permits and reject their EIS. This is the water supply for 17 million people and a Wild and Scenic Area with Special Protection Waters, and we must protect it,” said Jeff Tittel. “The DRBC can also strengthen protections in the region by including all fracking activities in their proposed moratorium.”

In New Jersey, we can still stop pipelines with our Wetlands Rules, which we have federal authority for, and Flood Hazard Rules. However, Christie weakened both rules to make it easier to build pipelines. Under pre-Christie rules, it was much harder to get the necessary individual permits since they had to prove need and no impacts to streams or wetlands. His changes including making them general permits, which declares there is no impact. These are much easier for pipeline companies to obtain.

“The DEP needs to keep to Murphy’s commitments and repeal the Wetlands Rules and Flood Hazard Rules that make it easier for pipelines like PennEast to be built. If the Murphy Administration upholds their commitments to pull down Christie’s weakened rules and replace them with better ones, then PennEast will have a much more difficult time getting permit approval. Having stronger water protections in place will help the DEP be able to reject the 401 Water Quality Certificate and other permit applications by PennEast,” said Jeff Tittel. “The Murphy Administration can stop the pipeline by reject its 401 Water Quality Certificate. Murphy needs to stand up for clean water and reject this pipeline!”

The PennEast Pipeline violates the Clean Water Act and cannot meet the criteria for Section 404 permits. In addition, because of the large number of high-quality streams, wetlands, and rivers the pipeline would cross, we believe that this pipeline cannot meet the requirement for a Section 401 Water Quality Permit. Many of these streams carry anti-degradation criteria. The route will cut through areas with steep slopes, further exacerbating siltation and runoff. Until they receive these important permits, including the 401 Water Quality Certificate, they cannot be allowed to proceed.

“With this court ruling, it’s up to Murphy Administration and the NJDEP to stand up for the environment and stop this pipeline. Murphy must also push the DRBC to reject PennEast. The pipeline needs approvals from both these bodies to be built. We urge the DRBC to throw out PennEast’s application and for the NJDEP to reject all water and other permits for the project. We can stop this unnecessary and damaging project if the NJDEP and DRBC continue to fight against it and defend the interests of the people and environment of the Basin. The PennEast Pipeline threatens the open space, farmland, and drinking water for too many people,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Governor Murphy needs to keep his word when he came out against PennEast and stop this pipeline. He must put a moratorium on fossil fuel infrastructure to protect the environment and public health! We will continue to battle PennEast. This fight is far from over!"