Big setback for PennEast pipeline — can’t use NJ’s land
TRENTON — New Jersey's attorney general rejected a proposal for use of state-controlled land for a $1.1 billion natural gas pipeline, slowing the years-long effort by the company to break ground on a project strongly opposed by environmental groups.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a letter Friday that PennEast was "patently misleading" when it referenced multiple attempts at negotiating over the use of the land.
PennEast has said it anticipates construction on the roughly 120-mile (193-kilometer) pipeline from northeastern Pennsylvania to Mercer County, New Jersey, could start this year and take about seven months. But the denial means that the company has not yet acquired rights for all the land in New Jersey it needs for the project.
PennEast spokeswoman Pat Kornick said the latest communication from the state is a "step in the right direction" and PennEast is confident a settlement will be reached.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Friday also rejected the company's application for water permits, citing missing information.
Grewal said that PennEast's claim made in a letter to the state last month that it has "attempted on multiple occasions to negotiate an easement agreement" is "not true" and that the state has had no communication on specific property rights.
The attorney general also cites a separate court challenge to the company's federal certificate of necessity as a reason for rejecting the company's offer to compensate the state for use of New Jersey's land. It's unclear what the company offered the state.
Among the other areas of concern mentioned in the state's letter is a request from PennEast to keep details about the land use — known as a right of way — confidential. The letter asks that the provision be deleted because it's "contrary to public policy and numerous 'Sunshine' laws."
PennEast says the pipeline will bring jobs and needed low-cost natural gas to homes in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. Environmental groups worry the project will scar the landscape and potentially harm wildlife.
PennEast's application with federal regulators goes back to 2015. The company, which is made up of five different energy companies, has won federal and Pennsylvania permitting approvals including a key Federal Energy Regulatory Commission certificate that could allow the firm to use eminent domain to acquire land.
Whether New Jersey would sign off on the project has been unclear. Environmental groups worried that Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who left office this year, would greenlight the project. But he left before having the chance.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said during the campaign he opposed the pipeline's construction. Murphy appointed Grewal, after Christie previously appointed him to serve as prosecutor in Bergen County.
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