The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has administratively closed the PennEast Pipeline Company, LLC freshwater permit application. Citing a failure of PennEast to address deficiencies in its application, and the unlikely prospect of PennEast having adequate information, in the near future, the NJDEP rendered its decision via its June 28, 2018 determination. Without a New Jersey Freshwater Wetlands Permit, PennEast cannot proceed with construction in New Jersey.
In April 2017, PennEast obtained a favorable Environmental Impact Statement from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC is an independent agency that regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil, and review of Environmental Impact Statements is delegated to FERC by the Environmental Protection Agency. In its press release, FERC informed the public that this milestone means that the pipeline can be built while protecting the environment. However, those opposing the pipeline consider FERC’s Federal review of pipeline impacts no different than the fox watching the henhouse, and give little credence to the environmental protection afforded by FERC’s Environmental Impact Statements.
Therefore, focus turned to the next stage of approvals: state level permits. The proposed pipeline route involves hundreds of wetland and stream crossings, amongst other important environmental, cultural, agricultural, and historical resources.
In obtaining a victory at the State level, opponents of the PennEast pipeline are citing the joint efforts of numerous property owners along the proposed route. Many of these property owners have denied access to PennEast surveyors, preventing them from planning and strategizing around how they will attempt to justify or minimize impacts to the environment. Property owners who have defended their “No Trespassing” boundaries have described abusive, harassing interactions with PennEast contractors. These property owners have nonetheless stood up for their rights as private landowners and prevented PennEast’s access and data collection.
While the FERC determination is disappointing, it is not a surprising outcome at the Federal level. However, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s administrative closure is a positive step in the direction of using the State level review process to demand more meaningful environmental data in the review process.