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New Jersey denies PennEast Pipeline water permits


The PennEast Pipeline project has sustained another setback.

The New Jersey State Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has “denied without prejudice” the pipeline company’s application for water permits that are needed to build the $1 billion 120-mile pipeline. The pipeline route includes 37.8 miles that would be built on the New Jersey side.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy posted a tweet Oct. 11 with the NJDEP letter attached, although it was already in the hands of environmentalists several days before.

“We are committed to transitioning New Jersey to 100 percent clean energy by 2050,” Murphy said in the tweet.

The Oct. 8 letter states that PennEast no longer has the legal authority to “perform activities” on 49 properties along the route, citing last month’s U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruling which stated that New Jersey taxpayer-funded public lands could not be condemned unless the state has given its permission.

PennEast officials have said little about what impact the Appeals Court ruling and the NJDEP rejection of their application might have on the future of the pipeline, but an appeal remains likely.

“PennEast is confident the legal actions will be resolved favorably and the long-standing legal precedent under which FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) has operated to bring needed, clean, reliable, and affordable energy to consumers will be upheld,” PennEast spokesperson Patricia Kornick said in a statement.

It is not immediately known what impact the decision might have on Pennsylvania landowners along the route.

Kornick would not address questions about what the appeals court ruling and the NJDEP application might mean for the future of the project.

“PennEast member companies remain fully committed to the PennEast Pipeline Project,” she said. Pipeline officials maintain there is a need for the project.

At least one online industry report suggests that the pipeline company might ask FERC for help with its “legal actions.”

It is possible that PennEast could appeal to the Supreme Court.

Unsurprisingly, pipeline critics were happy with the news.

“I am pleased that the [NJDEP] rejected PennEast’s pipeline permits,” said N.J. state Sen. Kip Bateman (R-16) in a statement. Bateman’s district represents portions of Hunterdon, Somerset and Middlesex counties. “Hopefully this decision is the nail in the coffin for the pipeline.”

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, characterized the NJDEP denial in a statement as a “major setback” for PennEast.

“This is a big victory for the preservation of open space and the right of the state of New Jersey to protect those lands,” Tittel said.

He remains cautiously optimistic about efforts to stop the pipeline. “We have to remain vigilant, however, because PennEast can reapply for those permits.”

The permits that were denied include a Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permit, Flood Hazard Area Individual Permit, Flood Hazard Area Verification and Letter of Interpretation and a Water Quality Certificate.

The NJDEP letter states that the pipeline company “sufficiently addressed” administrative deficiencies in its application but PennEast “has not demonstrated that it has the authority” by law to submit its application so it cannot be considered “administratively complete.”

It has been more than five years since the pipeline plan became known.

PennEast still does not have approval from the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) which is also necessary for the project. The Commission thus far has not publicly addressed the project.

“We need to keep fighting,” Tittel said. “[New Jersey] needs to put a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects to give us more time, the [NJ]DEP needs to fix their rules that make it easier to build pipelines.”