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Army Corps Suspends Water Permit Process - Affects Pipelines from Keystone to NJ


On April 15, U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris overturned the permit issued for the Keystone XL pipeline in Montana. The judge ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) did not adequately consider harm to wildlife when it reauthorized the Nationwide Permit-12 (NWP 12) in 2017. The USACE has temporarily suspended the NWP 12 program. 


“The Army Corps has suspended Nationwide Permit 12 for crossing streams and wetlands because of a court case. This has broad impacts for pipelines across the country, from Keystone to PennEast, NESE, and other pipelines in NJ. This is an important step forward in protecting the environment and clean water from dangerous pipeline projects. This has been one of the most abused permits from the Army Corps that has led to major disruptions of wetlands and pollution to our streams. The court ruled that the Army Corps suspend the NWP 12 process and fix it by looking at the Endangered Species Act, NEPA, Clean Water Act,”  said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This is important in New Jersey because we have over a dozen fossil fuel projects moving forward despite the public health emergency. Suspending this permitting process will help protect our waterways.”


NWP 12 is a blanket process for permits that allow energy, power, and possibly other project construction that crosses streams and wetlands. The judge ruled that the USACE failed to conduct a multiagency consultation required under the Endangered Species Act to assess the risks of the NWP 12 program ahead of its 5-year renewal back in 2017.


“The judge found that they went around important environmental protections like NEPA and the Endangered Species Act to fast track the Keystone XL pipeline, so they are suspending the process until they can improve it. This could take quite a while, which is good news for our environment. In New Jersey, pipelines like PennEast and NESE would have major impacts to hundreds of waterways. The NESE pipeline will cause irreparable harm to the Raritan Bay, and PennEast will cross 88 streams in New Jersey and impact the Delaware River,” said Jeff Tittel. “For too long, the Army Corps has been rubberstamping pipelines and other dangerous projects across the country. We glad that this ruling will force the Army Corps to improve their permitting process.”


The ruling on April 15 was in response to a lawsuit filed by conservation and landowner groups last year, including the Sierra Club, which challenged the Corps’ failure to adequately analyze the effects of pipelines authorized under NWP 12, including Keystone XL, on local waterways, lands, wildlife, and communities. 


“The Nationwide Permits are similar to New Jersey’s General Permits for stream and wetland crossings, so this court decision should get us to reexamine how we handle General Permits for pipelines. NJ has delegated authority from the EPA for implementing the Clean Water Act, and based on this case when they give out General Permits they aren’t looking at the same things, like cumulative impacts or impacts to endangered species. They gave out 54 General Permits for the SRL pipeline to cut through the Pinelands, even though it will cut across 43 high-quality streams. They also gave General Permits to NESE for crossing the Raritan Bay and PennEast for crossing the Delaware River,” said Tittel. “New Jersey needs to reexamine General Permits that were put in place for these crossings by Christie. As part of reversing Christie’s rollbacks, Governor Murphy needs to fix General Permit 3 under the Wetlands and Flood Hazard Rules, which are similar to the Nationwide Permit.”


Multiple pipeline projects are moving forward in New Jersey, including the NJ Natural Gas Southern Reliability Link (SRL) pipeline. This pipeline would connect to a compressor station in Chesterfield and run 28 miles of pipe through Burlington, Monmouth, and Ocean Counties. The Williams Transco Northeast Supply Enhancement Project (NESE) would cut across Middlesex and Monmouth Counties on the way into the Raritan Bay and New York Bay. The PennEast Pipeline would threaten the entire Delaware River Valley, including 91 acres of wetlands and over 44 miles of forest.


“This ruling by the judge will stop the Army Corps from circumventing environmental reviews for oil and gas pipelines. They were ignoring pipeline impacts to endangered species and protected waterways, and now they will have to fix the NWP 12 permitting process. This is especially important because we are in the middle of a public health emergency and we still have over a dozen fossil fuel projects moving forward in New Jersey. Governor Murphy needs to put a moratorium on all fossil fuel projects in the state, especially now that coronavirus risk has been linked to air pollution exposure,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The Army Corps needs to change their permitting process to protect our streams, wetlands, and rivers from dangerous fossil fuel projects.”