FERC Urged to Halt Review of Outdated PennEast Pipeline Application

Posted September 26, 2016

FERC should suspend review due to out-of-time route changes, far-reaching threats to water, land, air quality, and in response to compelling data omissions, agency objections.

FAR HILLS, NJ (Sept. 26, 2016) — The New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJ Conservation) and Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association (SBMWA) today called upon the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to respond to the significant environmental concerns embedded within more than 3,000 comments submitted during the Commission’s public comment period for its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for PennEast.

PennEast submitted changes to the pipeline’s route to the FERC docket on September 23, after the public comment period ended on September 12. The route changes add further concerns because the public submitted thousands of comments based on a premature DEIS that used outdated maps and omitted impacted areas. A particular area of concern is the Gravel Hill section of the route.

The organizations called upon FERC to withdraw the PennEast pipeline application and consider the no-action alternative that has been referenced by several agencies including the New Jersey Rate Counsel.

“There has not been a single federal or state agency comment in support of this project, nor an agency that has found FERC’s DEIS to be acceptable,” said Tom Gilbert, campaign director, NJ Conservation.

“Considering the substantial concerns raised about inadequate data and significant environmental impacts raised by the New Jersey Rate Counsel, U.S. EPA, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Department of Interior and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, FERC must withdraw the application to fully evaluate a no-action alternative,” Gilbert added.

“It would be unacceptable for the review process to proceed in light of the alarming information submitted by key state and federal agencies and experts, and the existing alternatives identified that can meet the stated needs of the project without requiring consumers to pay for an unneeded pipeline, and without damaging our land, water and communities, and without the condemnation of more than 500 homeowners.”

Comments from Princeton University geosciences professor T. C. Onstott and Julie L. Barringer, former geologist/hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, warn that construction of the pipeline could mobilize arsenic, a highly toxic and carcinogenic substance, to leak into the drinking water supply for millions of New Jersey residents, exceeding state safety standards. Arsenic occurs naturally in our soil, but the construction and ongoing maintenance of the pipeline would likely cause these arsenic stores to dislodge and seep into the surrounding groundwater stores. Onstott and Barringer, who are professional arsenic chemists, also assert that the experiments PennEast has conducted to date have been insufficient and poorly-designed, so as not to identify the true risk of arsenic release into groundwater.

The U.S. Department of the Interior submitted a letter to FERC supporting Onstott and Barringer’s concerns about the threat of PennEast creating unsafe arsenic levels in drinking water and PennEast’s “insufficient”, “inadequate” and “incorrect” data on arsenic. Citing Barringer’s work among other experts, the Department of the Interior warns that the type of construction PennEast is proposing to use has been demonstrated to create elevated concentrations of arsenic. The Department also accuses PennEast of using “contradicting statements on Arsenic in groundwater.” The federal agency concludes that without access to many of this missing data, the pipeline’s environmental conclusions “cannot be verified.”

“Our drinking water supplies are our most fundamental precious resource, and we must take definitive steps to protect them. PennEast would disrupt some of the most pristine streams and aquifers left in our state, all for a senseless, needless project. We must stop this pipeline from going into the ground where it would be a direct threat to critical water supplies,” said Jim Waltman, Executive Director of SBMWA.

In another example of PennEast’s threats to water supplies, SUEZ Water New Jersey Inc. (SWNJ), which manages the Swan Creek Reservoir and supplies water to more than 4,000 residents in the area surrounding Lambertville, sent FERC a comment noting “the Dam’s close proximity to the proposed pipeline location raises significant safety concerns.” Specifically, SWNJ stated that it “has significant concerns regarding potential service disruption and loss of water from the Swan Creek Reservoir in the event an accident occurs during or after construction.”

NJ Conservation’s multiple comments on the docket flagged major deficiencies in the DEIS regarding impacts to, federal and state wildlife and plant species of special concern. The organization stated it has “little confidence” in PennEast’s ability to adequately document these resources. NJ Conservation submitted evidence that numerous federal and state wildlife and plant species of special concern are found within the route of the proposed pipeline, and these species were not identified or considered in DEIS.

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), an interstate and federal agency charged with managing the water resources of the Delaware River Basin, submitted a comment clarifying that is has broader authority than that suggested by the DEIS. DRBC also noted errors in PennEast’s identification of the proper boundaries of the Delaware River. DRBC will conduct an independent review of the proposed pipeline in 2017.

Comments submitted by the National Park Service (NPS) found PennEast’s impact analysis to be “inadequate” and also charged that the DEIS “appears to have been released for public comment prematurely and without the information necessary to complete a meaningful analysis.” NPS also reiterated the same concerns mirrored by others that PennEast submitted much of the required information to the DEIS late, which “significantly shortened the comment period and made commenting on this project a challenge.” The agency requested that PennEast submit the missing information and that FERC extend the comment period.

Opposition to PennEast is widespread and growing. Below is a list of various elected officials and municipalities in New Jersey who have publicly opposed or raised significant concerns regarding PennEast:

Elected Officials:

Congressman Lance (R-NJ), 7th District
Congresswoman Watson Coleman (D-NJ 12th District)
Congressman Fitzpatrick (R-PA 8th District)
Congressman Cartwright (D-PA 17th District)
Sen. Turner (D-NJ 15th District)
Sen. Whelan (D-NJ 2nd District)
Sen. Lesniak (D-NJ 20th District)
Sen. Bateman (R-NJ 16th District)
Sen. Greenstein (D-NJ 14th District)
Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-NJ 21st District)
Assemblyman Gusciora (D-NJ 15th District)
Assemblywoman Muoio (D-NJ 15th District)
Assemblyman Zwicker (D-NJ 16th District)
Assemblyman Ciattarelli (R-NJ 16th District)
Assemblyman Peterson (R-NJ 23rd District)
Mayor Ray Krov (R), Holland Township
Mayor Jill Popko (D), Bordentown Township
Mayor Kevin Kuchinski (D), Hopewell Township
Mayor Diana Haywood (R), Kingwood Township
Deputy Mayor Alex Robotin (R), Chesterfield Township
Committee member Richard Dodds (R), Kingwood Township

Counties and Municipalities that have passed resolutions against PennEast:

Mercer County
Delaware Township
Delaware Township Board of Health
Holland Township
Hopewell Township
Hopewell Township Board of Health
Kingwood Township
West Amwell Township
Hunterdon County Freeholders
East Amwell
South Hunterdon Regional School District 

About New Jersey Conservation Foundation

New Jersey Conservation Foundation is a private nonprofit that preserves land and natural resources throughout New Jersey for the benefit of all. Since 1960, New Jersey Conservation has protected 125,000 acres of open space — from the Highlands to the Pine Barrens to the Delaware Bayshore, from farms to forests to urban and suburban parks. For more information about the Foundation’s programs and preserves, go to www.njconservation.org or call 1-888-LAND-SAVE (1-888-526-3728).

About Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association

The Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, a member-supported nonprofit conservation organization, works to keep water clean, safe and healthy. Since 1949, the Watershed Association has protected central New Jersey’s water and natural environment through conservation, advocacy, science and education. For more information about the Watershed and its programs please visit www.thewatershed.org or call 609-737-3735.

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