LETTER Pinelands Commission Betrays Pines: Approves NJNGas Pipeline

Pinelands Commission Betrays Pines: Approves NJNGas Pipeline

Today the Pinelands Commission approved the New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG)’s proposed Southern Reliability Link (SRL) pipeline with a Commission vote of 8-4, and one abstention. The Commission originally approved the pipeline and was challenged by NJ Sierra Club and others. The court remanded the Commission’s approval back and that’s what they’re having this meeting. The Commissions held one public meeting this summer.

“The Pinelands Commission, in another dastardly vote, sold out the Pinelands and the people of New Jersey! Once again, they took the side of pipeline companies over doing their job and protecting the Pinelands. This gives the Commission another black eye in their shameful and unlawful approval of these dirty and dangerous pipelines. This approval flies in the face of the thousands of New Jersey citizens who have spoken out against the pipeline and contradicts the Commission’s own rules. What makes this more outrageous is that the court ruled that Nancy Wittenberg’s previous approval of the SJG pipeline exceeded her authority. Now the Commission is rubberstamping her decision instead of acting as an independent body!” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “They have not only put at risk the integrity of the Commission itself, but the confidence of the people of New Jersey in the Commission. They have broken the public trust and put the entire Pinelands at risk by approving this project.”

The New Jersey Sierra Club is currently suing the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) and the Pinelands Commission on their approval of the SRL pipeline. We are opposing the BPU and Pinelands Commission’s decision to allow the 28-mile gas pipeline to destroy environmentally sensitive land in the New Jersey and threaten communities along the route in Burlington, Ocean, and Monmouth Counties. We are also challenging the decisions of the BPU and Pinelands Commissioner Director Nancy Wittenberg in court. We believe the Executive Director of the Pinelands Commission’s exceeded her authority by unilaterally determining that the pipeline was consistent with the Comprehensive Management Plan. This decision circumvented a public hearing and further vote by the Pinelands Commission, which we believe is against the Pinelands Protection Act.

“The unnecessary and dangerous SRL pipeline will cut through environmentally sensitive land, threaten communities, and cause more climate change impacts. The Pinelands is the largest open space on the eastern seaboard and recognized for its biodiversity by the United Nations. It is also the country’s first National Reserve and holds 17 trillion gallons of water in its aquifer. When the Pinelands Act was passed forty years ago, one of the major reasons was to prevent pipelines coming through to connect offshore oil to refineries in south Jersey,” said Jeff Tittel. “The Commission has sided with the gas companies over the public that they are supposed to work for. Instead of setting aside their approval and going back to the drawing board, the Pinelands Commission is going forward with the NJNG process. This is probably because they lost the same court case for the SJG pipeline and expect to lose it for this one as well.”

There is no need for this pipeline other than to promote fracking and the burning of fossil fuels that impact clean water and promote climate change. This pipeline will promote sprawl and overdevelopment down the shore and near the Pinelands when they have other clear alternatives. It also poses a safety threat by bringing dangerous fossil fuels right through our backyards. The Pinelands is a UN biosphere reserve and one of the largest sources of fresh drinking water on the east coast. This project would put the environmentally sensitive lands, as well as drinking water for thousands of people, at risk.

“As we keep building more and more pipelines around the state, safety is becoming a serious issue. This is why we need to move away from dangerous fossil fuels coming through our communities. There are pipeline explosions and accidents happening more frequently around the country and they continuously put people and communities at risk. This pipeline will promote fracking, add to air pollution, and create safety hazards to the communities it passes through,” said Jeff Tittel. “This Governor and these Commissioners may leave but the damage that they’re done to the Pinelands, and the reputation of the Commission, may be permanent.”

The SRL pipeline is only part of the bigger push for fracking and dirty infrastructure. The Southern Reliability Link pipeline, Garden State Expansion compressor station, and PennEast Pipeline are all one project. NJNG is a 20% partner in PennEast and is getting their 180,000 dekatherms of natural gas from them. PennEast is putting that gas into a Transco substation in Ewing which is part of the Garden State Expansion. That same amount of gas will then go to compressor station in Chesterfield and into the Southern Reliability Link pipeline. The compressor station, Southern Reliability Link, and PennEast Pipeline would work together as one system and should be evaluated as such.

“This pipeline is part of a bigger picture, which is the rush to bring fracked gas from Pennsylvania to the New Jersey coast for development. The SRL is directly interconnected to the Garden State Expansion compressor station and PennEast Pipeline. The SRL would connect to the Garden State Expansion (GSE) compressor station in Chesterfield which would get gas from the PennEast Pipeline. These projects would be working together to bring fracked gas into New Jersey. NJNG and other utility companies are planning to criss-cross our state with dangerous pipelines,” said Jeff Tittel. “There have been conflicts of interest throughout this whole process. The decision-makers for this pipeline have been tainted from Christie down. He put many of the Commissioners in their positions so they would help him push through these pipelines.”

The Christie Administration has removed commissioners who voted against the pipeline and stacked it with people who support SJG instead of protecting the Pines. The Pinelands is the largest open space on the eastern seaboard and recognized for its biodiversity by the United Nations. It is also the country’s first National Reserve and holds 17 trillion gallons of water in its aquifer.

“In an act of betrayal of the people of New Jersey, the Pinelands Commission broke their own rules and rubberstamped the NJNG SRL Pipeline. This decision is a major blow to the Pinelands, but the battle isn’t over yet. We must continue to protect the Pinelands because both of these pipelines will create irreversible harm to wetlands, streams, as well as damage important open spaces, and threaten one of the largest sources of fresh drinking water on the east coast,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We beat them in court once and we’ll do it again to keep this unnecessary project from cutting a scar through our state and threatening our drinking water. We fought to save the Pinelands 40 years ago and we’re going to keep fighting now!”