In a sign of the battle that could be ahead for the PennEast Pipeline under a Democratic governor, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) on Friday asked FERC to throw out the certificate for the project.
The state asked for a rehearing and rescission of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s January certificate authorizing the project because it claims the underlying environmental review failed to meet the National Environmental Policy Act. The agency said the review fell short by relying on “woefully insufficient data; failing to adequately consider the alternatives, failing to meet other federal environmental requirements, including minimizing impacts to wetlands before considering mitigation; and failing to require drilling methods that could impact water quality under the Clean Water Act.”
PennEast spokesperson Patricia Kornick acknowledged that the state’s filing is part of a multi-year approval process, but the issues raised in NJDEP’s “request aren’t new and have been considered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.” She said the request should therefore be denied.
PennEast would move more than 1 Bcf/d of shale gas from northeast Pennsylvania to New Jersey. About one-third of the 120-mile pipeline would be in New Jersey. The project is scheduled to enter service in 2019.
In its filing, the NJDEP said that since the Commission relied on a fundamentally flawed final environmental impact statement in issuing the order, “the order itself is also defective.” The agency also filed a motion to stay the project’s authority to condemn properties in the state while its rehearing request is pending.
It’s not the first snag the project has hit in the state. In a letter sent to PennEast earlier this month that wasn’t entirely unexpected, NJDEP said it was denying the project’s freshwater wetlands permit and federal water quality certification application without prejudice and invited the company to resubmit it.
In April 2017, after PennEast filed for the permits, the agency told sponsors that the application was incomplete due in part to a lack of landowner permission to survey certain parts of the proposed route. NJDEP closed its environmental review in June, denying a request for more time to address the application’s deficiencies, after PennEast failed to submit the requested information within 60 days.
Kornick said the project sponsor is encouraged that the state agrees with the importance of survey access. “It is the data collected by survey teams, which is being requested by PennEast, that is necessary before a FERC order can even allow construction.” About three-quarters of landowners along the route have provided survey access.
Although most of the setbacks occurred before newly sworn-in Gov. Phil Murphy took office, there has been speculation about how his administration will handle projects such as PennEast.
So far, he has ordered the state to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and issued a transition report calling for more renewable energy, stronger efforts to combat climate change and more protection for water resources. NJDEP’s Friday filing was made under Acting Commissioner Catherine McCabe, who was nominated by Murphy and formerly served as acting administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the Obama administration just before President Trump took office and current administrator Scott Pruitt was confirmed.
While other states, such as New York under Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, have stepped up to challenge natural gas infrastructure in recent years, New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said of Murphy’s administration that “this is the first governor to ask FERC to reconsider a pipeline approval” and take action against the Commission’s decision.