Opponents of the proposed PennEast pipeline are calling on the state Department of Environmental Protection to deny permits that have been filed to build the pipeline through more than 4,300 acres of preserved lands and suburban communities in parts of Hunterdon and Mercer counties.

During an event in Pennington on Tuesday, private citizens, an assortment of groups and organizations and local, state and federal lawmakers spoke against the plan, insisting it is dangerous to people and the environment as well as a blatant money grab.

The company behind the pipeline says the project is safe and will mostly follow the route of existing power lines and roadways.

Tom Gilbert, the campaign director for ReThink Energy NJ, said PennEast is trying to build the pipeline because it would be very profitable for them.

“There’s incentive there where they get a 14% rate of return over 15 years, and New Jersey’s consumer watchdog (Stefanie Brand, the director of the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel) concluded that’s what’s driving this project, not any public need for it," Gilbert said.

He stressed pipelines pose a risk to people, resulting in at least one major incident a month around the nation, including explosions.

Gilbert said the pipeline is not needed because gas experts have found “New Jersey has far more capacity than is needed. Even on the coldest days of the winter there’s over a billion cubic feet of excess gas blowing out of New Jersey during those peak demand events.”

Democrats as well as Republicans have opposed the plan.

U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson-Coleman, D-N.J. 12th District, said fighting the pipeline is the right thing to do “on behalf of New Jersey, our country, our planet, our generations to follow us.”

“This PennEast project has been determined to be unnecessary by every expert that has looked at it," she said. "It’s a profit grab. The greed gets greedier, the rich get richer, and be damned the rest of the people in this country. Well, we can stop that. The science and the facts are the truth, and they are on our side.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J. 7th District, said “we know why this pipeline is a mistake. It threatens waterways, farmland and private land."

He said many times in politics there are compromises but “this is not one of those situations. There is no tradeoff here, there is only cost. There is no economic benefit to New Jersey or to this region in building the PennEast pipeline.”

Hopewell Township Mayor Kristin McLaughlin said Central Jersey is filled with families and children who value a clean environment surrounded by trees, streams and wildlife, but “this pipeline unreasonably puts our residents at risk for no public benefit, we do not need this pipeline.”

“The construction of this pipeline exposes children, their parents, grandparents to potential arsenic poisoning.”

When asked for a response, Patricia Kornick, a spokeswoman for PennEast, said that federal regulators "conclusively approved in 2018 the PennEast Pipeline as necessary for the public benefit and safe for the environment."

"PennEast's Aug. 8 resubmission of the Freshwater Wetlands Permit application to New Jersey regulators is a technical step forward in a multi-year process that finally will allow New Jersey residents to benefit from lower energy costs, improved reliability, thousands of jobs, and a project that supports a cleaner energy future," Kornick said.

At least 246 professional engineers, environmental scientists and certified experts with more than 4,000 years of combined experience compiled the approximately 24,000-page technical application through on-the ground-analyses. As a result, the application affirms the initial finding by Federal regulators that the PennEast Pipeline can be built and operated in a way that meets or exceeds modern safety standards and is safe for the environment.

The application reflects PennEast's commitment to listening to suggestions, incorporating feedback and minimizing environmental impacts based on 31 meetings, 30 conference calls and 65 pieces of correspondence with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection over the last five years. That feedback has delivered a route in New Jersey that largely aligns with decades-old powerlines and roadways to dramatically lower overall impacts. As a result, wetland impacts are reduced by nearly half, with a total project footprint reduced by more than 20 percent.

While just one third of the entire project route is in New Jersey, residents and businesses stand to benefit from the PennEast Pipeline Project, which will transport the affordable, domestic natural gas on which we rely every day to meet our energy needs. PennEast looks forward to continuing to work with officials, regulators and communities as it continues to move forward this critical energy project.”

By the end of this month, the DEP is expected to decide whether the PennEast permit application process is complete and can move forward.

If they rule the permit application process is complete, public hearings will be held on the PennEast pipeline proposal, and a final decision by the DEP on whether to allow the project to proceed will be made at some point in the months following the conclusion of those hearings.
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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