PennEast pipeline Approved by FERC:, Real Battle Starts Now

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has issued a Certificate of Necessity and Convenience for the PennEast Pipeline with a 4-1 vote, Glick voting against it. PennEast is still missing many important permits they need to build their dangerous and damaging project. 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. 

“FERC is shamefully because once again, they’ve taken the side of a gas company over the public or the environment. It’s outrageous that they snuck this out late at night without even having a public hearing. This application is not only flawed, but full of false and missing information, making their approval even more shameful. The PennEast application is flawed and the EIS has missing and even false information. FERC is basically working for the pipeline companies rather than for the people they are supposed to represent. Their application for New Jersey permits were thrown out and other permit applications ruled deficient. It’s shameful that FERC can approve a pipeline without even applications for state or federal permits. FERC is the ‘Federal Expedited Rubberstamp Commission’,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Now the fight begins. We will organize to stop this pipeline that people vigorously approve. PennEast has a long way to go and many permits to get. We also have a new Governor who opposes the project. We won’t stop until we stop this dangerous and unneeded pipeline.”

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. The application states they plan to discharge or withdrawal over 45 million gallons of water. It also notes that part of the pipeline would pass through Special Protection Waters of the Delaware River. The DRBC has agreed to hold multiple hearings on the application, none of which have been scheduled yet.

“We’ll be challenging FERC’s approval of the pipeline even though PennEast does not have an application in front of the NJDEP and it could take them over a year to apply. Their previous application was rejected for being deficient. Based on this alone, they should not have been granted a FERC Certificate. They also do not have approval from the DRBC. The reason PennEast has been held up is because of the great job local citizen and activists have been doing. Over 65 percent of the route has yet to be surveyed due to resistance from landowners. That’s why the DEP rejected their water permits, saying there is not enough information for them to evaluate land use permits and their application is deficient.  The DEP’s rejection will delay any Determination of Completeness until next Administration,” said Jeff Tittel. “We will continue the fight because we know that despite this certificate, PennEast cannot be built without a multitude of other permits. The NJDEP rejected PennEast’s water application for being deficient. The USFWS, Army Corps, and EPA have all cited problems with PennEast as well. In Pennsylvania they haven’t received all the permits yet either, and some they have received are being challenged.”

Sierra Club won a court case recently in the U.S. Court of Appeals challenging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on the massive Southeast Market Pipeline project. Environmental groups and landowners challenged the decision to approve the construction and operation of three new interstate natural-gas pipelines in the southeastern United States without doing a proper environmental analysis. The Court agreed that under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) FERC’s Environmental Impact Statement was inadequate. This Court Case has good implications for PennEast Pipeline because the Court said FERC cannot give a Certificate of Public Convivence without all permits in place from state agencies. This includes getting a Water Quality Certificate and other approvals from the state.  Since PennEast has no application in front of the DEP, who rejected it for being deficient this means FERC cannot approve anything unless DEP gives PennEast a permit.

“FERC did the same thing here for PennEast that they did for the Sabal Pipeline. They gave out a certificate without state and federal permits or looking at climate impacts. The Sierra Club recently won the court case against FERC on Sabal since they can’t legal do this. The Court said FERC shouldn’t have given out approvals for eminent domain or get on people’s property without all the proper permits in place. This decision shows FERC cannot ignore the law, get around climate impacts, or go on people’s property without all the permits in place,” said Jeff Tittel. “This becomes even more critical for PennEast because they can not build a pipeline until they get approval from all the different state agencies. Their EIS in front of the DRBC is flawed and deficient and we believe that the DRBC should deny them altogether.”

FERC recently gained a quorum when the Senate confirmed Donald Trump’s two nominees, Republicans Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson. These additions give the agency a Republican-bias which means they can approve more pipelines and projects. Previous Commissioner Norman Bay quit after President Trump replaced him as leader of FERC with Cheryl LaFleur. Commissioner Colette Honorable announced her retirement soon after. Trump is actively trying to stack the Commission to advance his pro-fossil-fuel development agenda.

“FERC is nothing but a cheerleader for the industry they’re supposed to regulation. This decision was expected and the battle continues. They can not biild their pipelines with the 401 Water Quality Certificate, which they haven’t even made an application for. The DRBC hasn’t even approved their EIS yet. 70% of people along the NJ portion of the route have denied PennEast access to survey, meaning they don’t have enough data to apply for permits, let alone be granted them,” said Jeff Tittel.

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.

“The fight starts again and we will redouble our efforts to stop this pipeline and use every tool we can. We will work with the new Governor Murphy, who has opposed this pipeline, and the new DEP who wants to actually protect the environment. The PennEast Pipeline would threaten the entire Valley including 91 acres of wetlands and over 44 miles of forest; over 1,600 acres’ total. This is a serious project that will affect many people on both sides of the river.  The Christie Administration has weakened important rules and regulations such as the Flood Hazard Rules. Under the next Governor, we can stop these rollbacks and restore stronger protections for our waterways and environment!” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We will stand together to tell PennEast to stay the FERC out of our valley!”