STOCKTON, N.J., Aug. 17, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Several hundred citizens, affected homeowners, and elected officials came out to oppose the proposed PennEast pipeline this week at six "public meetings" hosted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), according to New Jersey Conservation Foundation and Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association. The public attended in order to submit comments on a critically important report about the environmental impacts of the proposed PennEast pipeline, only to find that FERC officials would not be listening.
Instead, Tetra Tech, a private firm with strong ties to the Marcellus Shale Coalition that advocates for gas drilling, was recording the comments on behalf of FERC. Tetra Tech authored the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that FERC issued on July 22 and that is the subject of the public comment period that runs through September 12th.
"The DEIS issued by FERC is lacking a core list of important information about the impact the proposed pipeline would have on our communities, drinking water and preserved lands. 'Negligent,' incompetent and unacceptable are the only ways to describe how defective this document is," said Tom Gilbert, campaign director for New Jersey Conservation Foundation. "Hundreds of citizens came to the hearings to comment on the gross inadequacy of FERC's report, only to be placed one at a time in a private room with a stenographer and a pro-gas industry representative.
"We are extremely disturbed by FERC's failure to examine the environmental impacts of this pipeline, and its actions to stifle the voices of homeowners and citizens who have a direct stake in the outcome and whose lives and homes would be permanently impacted if PennEast is approved," said Gilbert.
"Rather than encouraging citizen input, FERC appears to be doing everything in its power to discourage it," said Jim Waltman, executive director, Stony Brook – Millstone Watershed Association. "The proposed PennEast pipeline would threaten the drinking water for more than 1.5 million people, cut through 4,300 acres of taxpayer funded preserved open space and farmland, bulldoze through dozens of pristine streams and result in significant risks to our health and safety. If this pipeline moves forward, private corporations would have the power to take private property through eminent domain. If ever there was a project that should be reviewed under a microscope, PennEast is the one."
The pipeline has faced overwhelming opposition, including every town in the path of the pipeline, federal and state legislators from both parties, more than 70 local businesses, dozens of conservation groups, and hundreds of homeowners in the path who could have their land taken through eminent domain if the pipeline is approved.
"I continue to be dismayed by the lack of transparency and public input by FERC in their flawed review process for the PennEast pipeline," said Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ D-12). "Between the incomplete Draft EIS and the barriers to true public input, I have eroding confidence in the ability of FERC to truly represent the public interest. FERC's inadequate review process, exemplified by PennEast, is the very reason that I introduced the SAFER Pipelines Act of 2016, and the reason why I continue to stand with our community to demand true answers from FERC and PennEast on the potential environmental damage and property rights ramifications of this project."
Senator Kip Bateman attended the FERC meeting in Clinton, NJ, and expressed his concerns about FERC and PennEast while addressing the crowd: "I don't think it's warranted, I don't think they've done their homework, and I'm very upset with FERC. I think this whole process is a sham. And I'm very disturbed by the fact that they're basically just going through the motions. I encourage all our citizens and our residents to continue to fight the battle, because we're not going to give up! This land is too precious and I'm very concerned about the detrimental effects that this pipeline would have on this beautiful part of New Jersey."
"This is a pipeline that will span 118 miles through 250 waterbodies and 91 acres of wetlands," said Assemblyman W. Reed Gusciora (D-15). "It is important for FERC to insist on a thorough Environmental Impact study before allowing the project to begin. It is also questionable whether there is a real public need for any more sources of natural gas – particularly from fracking – at this time."
"FERC is a government agency which should be protecting the interests of ordinary citizens every bit as much as the powerful gas companies," said Assemblywoman Elizabeth "Liz" Muoio (D-15). "The report seems premature, at best, and released more to satisfy the looming timeline of PennEast than to present a solid evaluation of this massive project, which will permanently alter our environment and landscape."
The document lacks data that FERC admits won't be provided until later in the process, after the conclusion of the public review period. Despite this, FERC astonishingly concludes that the impacts won't be significant.
"The DEIS should be withdrawn until it has the complete data needed to take a hard look at the impacts. It does not comply with federal environmental law that requires a comprehensive assessment," said Waltman.
"The public needs to send a strong message to FERC during the comment period," said Gilbert. "This pipeline is not needed and would have unacceptable and irreparable impacts on our land, water and communities."
For more information on how to comment to FERC on the PennEast draft report, visit www.rethinkenergynj.org and follow @ReThinkEnergyNJ on Twitter and Facebook.
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. www.njconservation.org
The Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association works to keep central New Jersey's water clean, safe and healthy. Founded in 1949, the Watershed Association is headquartered at the LEED-Platinum Watershed Center for Environmental Advocacy, Science and Education in Hopewell Township. www.thewatershed.org
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SOURCE New Jersey Conservation Foundation; Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association