Atlantic Sunrise FEIS delayed 2 months – maybe PennEast will be too

Today FERC was supposed to release a Final EIS on the Atlantic Sunrise project, a mammoth 177 mile long 42″ natural gas pipeline project.  The project has already been significantly delayed, but there was hope they could proceed apace from here on out.

Not so.

The day before the FEIS was due, FERC released a notice that it was delaying the FEIS by two months.  See it here:

FERC Notice of Atlantic Sunrise Delay

Bloomberg reported that the delay is due this:

The change came after the commission said last week it was giving some landowners until Nov. 14 to comment on new route alternatives, news that sent shares of Williams and Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., a would-be shipper on the line, sliding on
speculation the line would be delayed.

However, the actual notice notes that the delay is due to this:

Based on additional information filed by Transco, however, we intend to issue a draft General Conformity Determination for the Atlantic Sunrise Project with a 30-day comment period

A General Conformity Determination is often filed in relation to the EPA and the Clean Air Act.  There is speculation that FERC is caving in under strong pressure by the EPA to use revised guidelines in calculating Green House Gas (GHG) emissions, and that FERC needs to calculate all impacts, including those up and downstream of the project.

If this is a general sea change in FERC, then we can expect to see a similar delay on PennEast.  No guarantees on that, but seeing a FEIS delayed like this is a very good sign for us.  More delays mean more uncertainty, more cost, and more possibility of the project owners giving up.

The Plan is: We have no plan

So the kickoff show for The Cost of the Pipeline (Radio Edition) on PANJ Radio went great, I really enjoyed it and Lorraine Crown was a fabulous guest co-host for the show.  I’ll have a full transcript available eventually and will post about the full content when that’s available.

Audio is available here:

For now, I wanted to focus on the second half of the show, when we talked about the West Amwell Township Committee elections and the Democratic union contribution scandal with Democratic candidate Eric Richard.

There were two topics I wanted to get to in this segment.  First, what were the concrete plans the Democratic Campaign had for opposing the PennEast pipeline.  Both sides have stated that they’re against the project, but the democrats had not published any details of what they would do if elected.

Second, would be a discussion of the union contributions.

The Plan is: We have no plan

On the first point, I was very surprised by Mr. Richard’s answers.  There was a lot of discussion of families, and keeping residents safe and protected, and talking about being a friend of the environment and environmental causes, but no concrete actions were discussed.  After listening to a description about how the Democratic Campaign was against the pipeline from the “day it launched”, I interjected:

[Mike] I think that’s fair enough but i think that Lorraine’s point, you know she mentioned that there’s  words, and there are actions….

Why don’t we look at the positive first and then we’ll talk about the contributions

You know, what sort of actions would you take if you’re elected in opposition of the pipeline.

Mr. Richard replied that he agreed with “95%” of what myself and Lorraine had been saying against the pipeline, but then went on to say this:

And so when I saw that my opposition and my slate of candidates had the same position on this, I put it on the shelf. I said I am NOT going to try to invent a political issue to tear down my opposition if there is no “there” there. A couple instances folks brought things to my attention, where they said you should go after your opponent’s for this. I said no, I’m not I’m not gonna go after them for that.  Why, because at the end of the day, even though there were some bumps in the road, they did the right thing. And so I’m going to take that issue and I’m gonna put it on the shelf. I’m not gonna turn it put into politics.

Lorraine tried to push him a bit to get something a bit more concrete, saying:

[Lorraine] And it was the question that was on my lips as you were just talking now what about as a you know as “I will” and a “I will do this” statement, that West Amwell will allocate money toward expert, experts, or legal defense, or, “or or or”.

..which Eric responded to by saying that he sent a check for $250 to West Amwell Citizens Against the Pipeline, and that his check beat the township’s donation by a few days.

At the end of the day, it became abundantly clear that the Democrats have no action plan for defeating PennEast.  None.  Since both sides “oppose PennEast”, they called it a day and conveniently just stamped their campaign saying “We’re Ag’in it!” and figured that was enough.

He did get a dig in noting that West Amwell Township hadn’t allocated any funds to fight PennEast directly, which is duly noted.  But again, when Lorraine asked him if HE would allocate any funds, we got a pivot into another direction.

It should also be noted that while the Republicans have not allocated funds for the pipeline fight, both the Township  and Environmental Committees have been extremely active in opposition, and have done a number of wonderful things including letters to the FERC docket, interaction with state agencies, and passing ordinances in opposition of PennEast or which hinder its ability to move forward.

So we have Republicans with a history of opposition to the pipeline with concrete actions, and we have appeals to emotion and vague assurances  from the Democratic side, with no actual plan.

This is disappointing, to say the least.

On Those Donations

On the Union donations themselves, Mr. Richard made it clear that getting massive union donations was the intent from the beginning.  He stated that Republicans out number registered Democrats 2-1 in West Amwell, so he was facing an uphill battle.  And that unions would be key to overcoming the odds.  So the union contributions were intentional and part of the strategy.

He also came out as being extraordinarily in favor of unions in a big way.  Not surprising, given that he works for the AFL-CIO.  But I found it a little disappointing that he never actually said what his job was – which is a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO.  There is a tendency here to obfuscate and hide details which I continue to find troubling.

He tried to distance himself from any pro-PennEast contributions with a lot of razzle dazzle about other candidates in state and federal races, how hard it is to track what union is for what cause, and some other obfuscating tricks to try to blur an issue that is actually pretty black and white.  I  acknowledge early on that some union contributions clearly have nothing to do with PennEast.  But despite this, most of the contributions in total were in fact form pro-PennEast union organizations.

Mr. Richard talked about his “litmus test” for donations.  In a nutshell, he would ask any organization if they would “directly benefit” from the pipeline (presumably in the form of jobs).  If they verbally answered “No”, they were OK to donate.  If they said “Yes”, they weren’t (and he claims to have returned one $500 check from LiUNA).

But that the whole “test” – a verbal assurance (often from friends and buddies of his) and nothing else.  Whether an organization was pro-PennEast or not was immaterial.  In fact, this happened:

What i can say that publicly there’s is every indication that UA Local 9 is pro-PennEast, certainly their parents are, certainly the sheet metal workers are PennEast.  Lots of the other organizations here, I think we call them up and I said “are you pro PennEast or  against PennEast”…
Mike, I’m not disputing that, I’m not disputing that some of these unions are pro PennEast.
I also showed him a letter from a union coalition that wrote to FERC in support of PennEast, and is listed on PennEast’s web site as a supporter.  That letter includes the names of a number of union leaders who agree with the letter and support PennEast on behalf of both themselves and their unions.
That support includes Joe Egan, 456 Electrical Workers, who gave Mr. Richard $1,000 from his union.
Joe Demark, Sheetmetal Workers 25, who gave $5,000 from his union.
Vincent Lane, $500 from Painters 711.
And Michael Maloney, Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 9, $16,000.
Over $20,000 of contributors are on this pro-PennEast letter, and there are thousands more from other pro-PennEast unions.
It became crystal clear during the show that Mr. Richard does not care if his union 
contributors are Pro-PennEast.   He is A-OK with that.

I, for one, am not.  How about you, voters of West Amwell?

Inaugural “The Cost of the Pipeline” Radio Show on PANJ Radio


Please join me today at noon for our inaugural edition of “The Cost of the Pipeline”, Radio edition.  The show is hosted on PANJ Radio by Rob Bell of Lambertville, NJ.

Today we have two special guests.  Lorraine Crown, of Holland Citizens Against the Pipeline, and Eric Richard, who is running as a Democrat for a Township Committee seat in West Amwell Township.

Topics today will include an overview of who responded to the PennEast Draft EIS in September and what’s happened since the comment deadline in September.

And finally  we will have a special discussion: “Unions, Pipelines and Elections”.  We’ll discuss the nuances and intersections of Unions, infrastructure projects, politics and influence, with an emphasis on a recent controversy in West Amwell where the Democratic campaign has been revealed to have received $45,000 in donations, with 3/4 of that money in the form of large donations from Unions – most of them pro-PennEast.

Eric Richard is here to make the case for the Democrats as one of their candidates.



Rebuttal of Eric Richard Response to October 15th Post

This is a rebuttal  to Eric Richard’s response to my post from October 15th.  His response is available here.

I am very happy to see Mr. Richard come out so strongly against the pipeline, and I hope that if he does become elected that we can work together to stop it from ever harming our community.  As he correctly points out, at the end of the day we and our families all live here, and it’s in our best interests to work together.

AFL-CIO Affiliation

On the issue of Mr. Richard’s employment, that of course would be impossible to hide (indeed, I was able to find this quite easily).  However, that is not the point.  There was no mention of his AFL-CIO affiliation and stance on any of the campaign material I was able to find over a search of a couple of days, and many voters rely predominantly on such material to make their decisions.  Many voters will not dig into candidates the way a slightly OCD person like myself will, and as such it’s important in the name of transparency that such affiliations be highlighted.

I found it disturbing that he failed to mention that his entire professional career has been with the AFL-CIO, and I still do.  When you couple this with the union donations to the campaign, the level of concern raises up a bit.  Everyone I have talked to has indicated that $30,000+ for a township committee race is unheard of and perhaps even unprecedented.  It deserves to be talked about, as does his views on unions.

In politics, perception is often everything.

Union Involvement with PennEast

Mr. Richard goes into some details about the unions he’s willing to accept contributions from, and what their technical ties to PennEast are or maybe.  He states that there are “five unions that are signatories to the pipeline that would receive all the work if it were to proceed“, “our campaign has not accepted a PENNY from any of those signatory unions“, that “that one such signatory union…sent me a contribution over the summer – and I returned it to them immediately“.

I’m not precisely sure where Mr. Richard got the number five from  or precisely what he means by signatory unions.  Here is the official PennEast “supporters” page:

And here is a snapshot of that page as of Monday Oct 17, 2016 @ 12:29pm:


We see here 11, not 5, labor and construction trade unions coming out in favor of PennEast.  Including LiUNA Local 158 and Local 472.  LiUna is fact a part of the AFL-CIO:

…whom Mr. Richard works for in the capacity of a lobbyist, and who he received a donation from.

The United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry (aka UA) are not only on the supporters page, they are also mentioned in the PennEast Draft EIS as notable supporters.  That union is the parent of Plumbers Local 9 and Plumbers Local 24, who combined have given $8,800 to their campaign.

Mr. Richard writes off the Plumbers Local 9 contribution by saying:

Are you aware – that some of the union leadership that you site in your article – such as Plumbers Local 9 – I’ve had a personal friendship with for over a decade? The business manager for this local was at my wedding six years ago. He has ZERO interest in anything except to see me succeed in my campaign.

This is disturbing on two levels.  The obvious one is that Plumbers Local 9’s parent is UA, and UA is an official supporter of PennEast.  The other side is perhaps even simpler – what does Mr. Richard’s personal friendship with union leadership have to do with giving him $8,800 of the union’s money for a campaign?  It is not the union leader’s money, it’s the union’s.  There’s a big difference.

There are other unions that are also pro-pipeline listed in their donation list, such as Sheetmetal Workers Local 25 ($5,000) and United Steelworkers District 4 ($1,000).  They may not be technically a “PennEast signatory”, but in fact they are firmly pro-pipeline and there are numerous references to this fact available on-line.

On this issue I think Mr. Richard is splitting hairs here.  He’s clearly received significant funds from unions who are pro-PennEast.

On Mr. Richard returning money from a “signatory”, I’d be interested in knowing which one and for how much.  I didn’t see any refunds in the campaign contribution website other than a reduction in a donation  (by Plumbers Local 9 for $400 refund I believe, but I can’t check right now the NJ election donations site is down).

Statements on PennEast and the Environment

Mr. Richard made a number of statements about his opposition to PennEast and support of the environment.  I see those as a very positive sign, and if he is elected we will hold him to it.  If he’s willing to share any publicly verifiable information on his support against PennEast or in favor of the environment, I’ll be happy to post it here.


I thank Mr. Richard for his rebuttal, and there’s a lot of hopefully information in there about the environment and the pipeline.

But with that said, some of his claims about where the money for his campaign is coming from, and whether or not they support PennEast,  don’t seem to check out.  There are some heavy pro-PennEast unions who have contributed the lion’s share of money to the campaign – and who went to who’s wedding is irrelevant (or, perhaps, looks even worse).

At the FERC scoping meeting I attended in Frenchtown, there were sheetmetal workers and steelworkers and pipe fitters in the crowd ringing the room, trying to intimidate anti-PennEast folks who were there to testify.  Their unions contributed to Mr. Richard’s campaign.

At the Garden State Expansion, LiUNA shirts filled the room with union people paid to be there to try to force the NJDEP to allow the GSE to go through – despite all the wetlands impacts.  The same LiUNA that is part of the AFL-CIO, Mr. Richard’s employer, and who he also received a contribution from.

Money talks, and there still is the question on why $30,000 is being raised in a campaign for a sleepy little rural town in Western NJ, and why unions from as far away as NY State care about who is on the Township Committee in West Amwell, NJ.

I would like to hear more from Mr. Richard about how he intends to stop PennEast, but accepting thousands of dollars from PennEast supporters is far from a promising start.


Response from Eric Richard on October 15th post

Yesterday, Eric Richard, candidate for West Amwell Township Committee, responded to my post about the West Amwell Township Committee race and the issue of a large number of union donations to the Democratic side of the campaign.

Here is his response in its entirety.  I’ll have a follow on blog post to respond in full and will link to it here when it’s complete, but I wanted to get this out as soon as I could.  This is also posted on the West Amwell Proud Facebook page.

From: Eric Richard
Date: Sunday Oct 16, 12:20pm

Mike – After reading your blog article from yesterday, I wanted to bring to your attention, the attention of your readers and to the attention of all West Amwell residents, some important facts.

First and foremost, when I began my campaign several months ago, I sat down with my running mates and explained to them that I would not accept any contribution from any interest that would benefit from the pipeline. That promise has never been broken and still stands today. Since the day our campaign Facebook page was launched over the summer, it articulates our clear position in opposition to PennEast.

With that understanding, I need to ask you if you researched, bothered to interview anyone (including myself) or are aware of any of the following specifics:

  • Are you aware that there are five unions that are signatories to the pipeline that would receive all the work if it were to proceed?
  • Are you aware that our campaign has not accepted a PENNY from any of those signatory unions?
  • Are you aware, that one such signatory union that you mention in your article sent me a contribution over the summer – and I returned it to them immediately? For precisely the reason you raise in article – to avoid the perceived conflict of interest.
  • Are you aware, that not a single union that gave me a contribution EVER even asked me my position on the pipeline or discussed the issue with me. Are you aware that all of the local unions that did contribute represent workers completely unrelated to pipeline construction? For example fireman (FMBA), state and local public employees (196 PAC, CWA), nurses (HPAE) and transit employees (ATU).
  • Are you aware – that some of the union leadership that you site in your article – such as Plumbers Local 9 – I’ve had a personal friendship with for over a decade? The business manager for this local was at my wedding six years ago. He has ZERO interest in anything except to see me succeed in my campaign.
  • Also – I am in no way hiding who I work for. If you visit my facebook page – on the front page for the last 13 years it has displayed my employer as the AFL-CIO. I am a proud labor supporter. I stand with working people and I am proud to have their endorsement and support.

The voters of West Amwell should be aware of my life long support of conservation and environmental organizations. I’ve participated in events or gave personal donations to a multitude of environmental groups since I was a teenager, including the World Wildlife Federation, the NJ Sierra Club, the Galapagos Conservancy, the NJ Audubon Society, the Stonybrook – Millstone Watershed Association, among others. Also I’m glad you mentioned that our campaign made a donation to OPPOSE the pipeline through your very own organization!

On a personal note, I have a little girl – Ariella (4). The love of my life. Maybe you have seen her on our billboards. We have well water. The proposed pipeline route is a short distance from my back porch. My passion to protect her from every possible threat is on my mind constantly. The fact that you – as well as Mayor Rich and his running mates, all of whom are fathers just like me, that are confronting the same community issue, believes my family’s health and safety is for sale is personally disturbing. Its politics at its worst and the people of West Amwell deserve better.

It’s my hope you will post this on your blog and let your readers be informed of the truth. I will share it on our campaign facebook page and beyond. Furthermore, it is my hope that we can work together to stop PennEast, even though you endorsed my opposition. My campaign is about issues & problem solving – not politics. And together we can achieve much more when like-minded individuals, individuals that have the same exact position on this issue – work together rather than tear the other down for political purposes.

Eric Richard

Candidate for West Amwell Township Committee

Proud Member of the AFL-CIO

Proud Opponent of Penn East


PennEast and Concentric Energy Advisors Continue to Build their Castles in the Sand

There’s a famous Bible quote that says “But everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand”.  PennEast and their longtime friends at Concentric Energy Partners should look it up sometime.

This morning, PennEast delivered a “rebuttal” to the NJ Rate Counsel’s submission on the DEIS.  The bulk of this rebuttal is yet another report from Concentric Energy Partners.  Why they continue to use Concentric when FERC has rejected all of their reports is beyond me, but we should count ourselves lucky there🙂

This latest Concentric report contains a huge number of citations as usual.  They cite California Energy Board, Pennsylvania PUC, NJ Board of Public Utilities, Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, and many others.  Those citations are made to show that certain information is invaluable to determining whether pipelines are needed or not in a given region.  It goes on for pages and pages.

They’re all fine citations in their own right.

The problem is the foundation they are based on.

Specifically, Concentric’s entire argument about “need” for this pipeline is based on this section, page 6:

One benefit that PennEast provides is the opportunity for LDCs and other shippers to replace natural gas supplies purchased in one production area (e.g., the Gulf Coast) with less costly supplies in another production area (e.g., the Marcellus Shale). Shippers on PennEast, including Consolidated Edison, PSEG Power, South Jersey Gas, and UGI Energy Services, specifically cite the opportunity to lower gas costs for customers as a reason for contractually committing to capacity on PennEast.

PennEast shippers have also cited many other reasons for making long-term contractual commitments for this capacity, including:

    1. (i)  reliability (cited by New Jersey Natural Gas and South Jersey Gas);
    2. (ii)  supply and pipeline diversity (cited by Elizabethtown Gas, New Jersey Natural Gas, Texas Eastern, and Consolidated Edison);
    3. (iii)  flexibility (cited by PSEG Power, South Jersey Gas, Texas Eastern, and Consolidated Edison);
    4. (iv)  price stability (cited by New Jersey Natural Gas and South Jersey Gas); and
    5. (v)  expansion opportunities (cited by Elizabethtown Gas and South Jersey Gas). 14

This is all lovely, and on its face it would seem very damaging to those who assert we don’t need this pipeline.

But here’s the problem: These are throw-away assertions from the shippers with NOTHING TO BACK THEM UP.

There are no studies.  There are no projections. There are no models cited.  There is no analysis of their existing systems.  There’s not a damn thing.  All there is a bunch of PR spun up by the PennEast owners marketing departments with no facts to back it up.

In fact, we know these assertions are empty because many people have researched this topic in detail (here’s my own):

Analysis of PennEast Purpose and Need in the FERC Draft Environmental Impact Statement

and also especially:

The Best Case Against PennEast yet

You might notice in particular that the PennEast owners, who are also shippers, state in no uncertain terms in their SEC filings that their existing operations are already resilient, redundant, and sufficiently varied, and that they are highly satisfied that their gas networks are in good shape.

We also note from many areas that rates in NJ have dropped like a stone over the past few years, and we are basically as close to zero as we’re ever likely to get.

And then of course there is also the NJCF study conducted by Skipping Stone:

You remember, the study with actual data behind it.

So don’t be worried about the pages and pages of citations by Concentric.  While they’re beautiful in their own right, and I’m sure PennEast page Concentric a ton of money for it, in the end those citations mean nothing if Concentric (and PennEast’s) basic facts are empty, baseless assertions.

Keep building your castle in the sand, PennEast.  There’s a storm coming, and you’ll see how just how well that foundation holds up to the N’easter of opponents against you.

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Support Rich/Cally/Hoyer for West Amwell: Unions shouldn’t control our town, and PennEast opponents should be worried

Note 1: This is a personal endorsement and does not represent the views of West Amwell Citizens Against the Pipeline or HALT PennEast.

Note 2: Anti-PennEast folks who aren’t West Amwell residents: stay with me, this isn’t just a West Amwell thing.

TL;DNR: Unions are trying to buy the West Amwell Township Committee election

2016 is going to be a big year for West Amwell politics.  Our Township Committee is expanding from 3 to 5 members, and there is a serious race going on between Republicans and Democrats to take (or keep!) control of the committee.  I don’t generally comment directly on politics here, but this year there’s an important issue that’s come up that’s relevant to the pipeline and should be very concerning to many people in the area.

The primary results for the race are as follows:

2-year term:

✓ Gary V. Hoyer (R) – 216 (100%)
✓ William J. Corboy (D) – 182 (100%)

Two 3-year terms:

✓ James Cally (R)  – 205 (49.28%)
✓ Zachary T. Rich (R) – 209 (50.24%)
✓ Eric Richard(D) – 165 (49.85%)
✓ Michael J. Heron(D) – 166 (50.15%)

So we have 1 two-year term up for grabs, and 2 three-year terms.  With 3 Republicans on one side, and 3 Democrats on the other.

As for me, I am undeclared.  I’m not a Republican, or a Democrat, or Independent.  Or Libertarian, or Tea Party, or Green Party or any other kind of party. I guess you could say I am “The Party of Me” – which may sound selfish, but at least it’s honest. I think I am typical of many Americans – I am socially liberal and financially conservative.  I want to see people treated equally, I want everyone to have a fair shot at a good life, and I want the government to spend my money responsibly.

And above all, I want  for there to be transparency into government.  Without transparency we’re flying blind, have no idea what’s really going on, and we end up in a situation ripe for manipulation.

So with that lens, let’s take a look at the two sides and their candidates.

Republican Campaign – “We Are West Amwell”.

The Republican’s campaign is entitled We Are West Amwell, a theme that is based on the idea that the candidates not only have lived here quite awhile, but they also represent typical West Amwell residents, and they intimately understand the issues that West Amwell residents care about.

The platform is pretty simple – the township is doing great under the Republicans, didn’t do so well under the prior Democratic government, and they will continue that trend.  They’re against the pipeline.  And they are not Trump-style Republicans, but are instead West-Jersey Republicans, which is something else altogether.

The Republicans have put up Gary Hoyer for the 2 year term, and Zach Rich and James Cally for the 3 year terms.   All in all I’d say they were a solid team.  Gary and Zach have been part of the Township government for awhile now, and we can easily judge them on their records to date.

Gary Hoyer

Gary I know personally, his youngest son and mine play baseball together for the local team.   He’s a banking and finance executive, has lived in the Townsihp for 25+ years, has served on the Finance Advisory Committee, and has some very interesting stories about his hobby of flying planes for fun.

I’ve always found Gary depth of knowledge on many issues to be quite impressive, and he’s likable at the same time, a rare combination.  He’s very knowledgable, well-spoken, and knows how to analyze and solve problems.  I pretty much knew he’d get my vote.  If you’re interested in his background I urge people to look at his Linkedin profile:

…as well as the Finance Advisory Meeting minutes (available on the Township website,

In any case, the question for me would be whether I would split my vote between (R) and (D), or go a straight ticket.

Zach Rich

Zach is our current Mayor.  He seems a bit young for the job, which is mostly a sure sign that I’m getting old.  The campaign tells us he’s a 28 year resident and Director of Sales at Silvi Group Companies.  Given that Zach is an incumbent, people can judge him directly on his record – so once again, go look at the meeting minutes and what the town has done the past few years.  I think he’s done pretty well.  On pipeline issues the Mayor and the Committee have been responsive and put a great deal of useful information the FERC docket and been involved talking to various agencies.

James Cally

The campaign tells us James is a 15 year resident and a dentist in Skillman, NJ.  He’s on both the Planning Board and the Board of Health for the township.  As with Zach, his ideas and viewpoints are captured pretty well by meeting minutes, you can check out the planning board minutes on the township website as well.  He is still a bit of a question mark in mind despite some research.  Not anything positive or negative, more lack of information than anything else.

Democratic Campaign – “West Amwell Proud”

The Democrats are running their campaign under the slogan “West Amwell Proud”.  Their primary platform seems to be that taxes have gone up too much under the Republicans.  They are also against the pipeline.  And (oddly to me), want to make West Amwell more pedestrian and cyclist friendly.  Their candidates are Bill Corby, a former mayor of West Amwell, Michael Heron, a local attorney, and Eric Richard, who we’ll get to in a moment.

William “Bill” Corby

Bill Corby has lived here for over 50 years, and served the township extensively in the past, including 2 years as Mayor back in 2009, 9 years on the Board of Education, 6 years on the Planning Board, and 3 years on the Township Committee.  This is a bit of an issue and a red flag for me – there was a big change in who runs the Township made back in 2010, and those changes were made for a reason.  A few major problems crept into the Township during that timeframe.  Some of them are attributable to the 2007/2008 housing crash for sure, but some of it comes down to how the township was run as well.  From what i can tell ideals got in the way of keeping the township financially secure, and we are still paying for that in some ways.

This makes voting for Gary of course even easier.

Michael Heron

Michael Heron is a local attorney, with about 13 years experience practicing civil law.  He’s in good standing wth all the right government agencies and bar associations, and by all indications a good lawyer.  Like me, he moved here several years ago.

Prior to being an attorney he was a member of the Building Trades Union for 18 years.

I haven’t been able to get too much of a handle on Mr. Heron to be frank, so a bit like James Cally he’s got a question mark in my book for lack of information.  But I did look askance at the union connection being highlighted.

Eric Richard

The West Amwell Proud campaign notes that Eric Richard has a great deal of experience with government.  He was chairman of the Municipal Utilities Authority that serves Lambertville/New Hope/Stockton from 2011-2015, worked very hard to combat the “smell problem” that has plagued southern Lambertville for years, and “has been appointed to various State and Local Boards, Commissions and Authorities by three different Governors, both Democrat and Republican alike.

He also served as Commissioner to the Hunterdon County Board of Taxation from 2005 – 2011 where he oversaw the assessment of property evaluations”.

This is all green-flag territory for me.  He knows local issues, knows regulations, gets things done.  OK, great.  But when I started researching his background, my opinion starting reversing itself.

A quick search turns up his Linkedin profile here:

As you can see in his profile, Eric has been employed by the AFL-CIO for his entire professional career.  He serves as “Legislative Affairs Coordinator”, which is a fancy way of saying he’s a lobbyist for them.  The campaign never mentions this connection anywhere that I can find.

Googling further we see he is in fact endorsed by the AFL-CIO in this race:

Eric Richard, AFT/AAUP 6324, West Amwell Committee

There are also numerous articles of his speaking for the AFL-CIO on labor issues.  For example, here he is speaking favor of a law that would enable striking union workers to get unemployment benefits (which I do not think is a very good idea at all):

The legislation would bring some financial relief to the thousands of Verizon workers in New Jersey who’ve been on strike since April 13, said Eric Richard with the state AFL-CIO.

“Go on that line and talk to these folks about how their families are moving forward without health care,” he said Tuesday during a committee hearing. “Find out how they’re moving forward being unable to pay their mortgages.”

The problem here is that Mr. Richard intimately tied to the AFL-CIO, and isn’t mentioning this at all in his campaign.  In fact seems to be hiding it.  This is a Big Red Flag.  I wouldn’t  discount a union worker or even union executive automatically based on their views and employment, but it would be a concern for me.  Hiding their affiliation is a whole other matter though.

And this is just the beginning.  Things get much worse from here though, and this is where pipeline opponents should get worried.

The Smoking Gun

My personal viewpoint on unions (which I know not everyone shares) is that they were invaluable when they were formed at the turn of the 20th Century.  But over the year they concentrated power in many ways, and are symbols of corruption (especially in NJ and the North East).  Certainly unions still do good as well, and I’m sure there are many people who are dying to point those things out to me.  But my own personal belief is that the many downsides of unions far outweigh their benefits.

In terms of PennEast, unions are funneling a lot of blue collar money (very hard won blue collar money, I’ll add) towards pushing an unwanted and unneeded pipeline.  We see it at the scoping meetings, with the unions ringing the halls.  We saw it at the Garden State Expansion meeting overflowing with LiUNA union members.  We hear it from Senator Booker, who tells us he is flooded with union support for pipelines (and oddly never hears from us).

So let me get back on point – I mentioned a smoking gun.  Today the Republican “We are West Amwell” campaign sent out a campaign flyer to all residents in the Township.  Among the usual stuff, was this panel:


What the Republican campaign is claiming here is that the Democratic team is almost entirely financed by unions from all over the State (and even out of state).  Frankly, when I first saw this I didn’t quite believe it, and I had to go look it up myself.  All campaign contributions in NJ above $299 have to be recorded, and campaigns also have to record the total amounts  they’ve received and spent.  You can find all this at:

I threw all of the data for RICHARD CORBOY & HERON FOR WEST AMWELL TOWNSHIP COMMITTEE into a spreadsheet, here it is below:


Here’s a summary: since May of 2016, the Richard/Corboy/Heron campaign has raised just over $30,000.  Of that amount, $6,000 came from individuals or groups underneath the disclosure threshold of $300.   $500 came from Lambertville Democratic Club (fair enough).


They weren’t even all or even mostly local unions.  Look at the spreadsheet.  Rahway, Caldwell, Monmouth Junction, Hammonton.  Even Cheektowaga NY!

This is…not good.  We have a candidate who is a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO that’s not telling people about that.  We have another candidate who was a union member for 18 years.  And we have a gigantic war chest (for a town West Amwell’s size) that’s 79% financed from unions all over the state.

I know none of the candidates on either side  (except for Gary), so I’m unable to say what they’re like personally.  I have little doubt that they are all fine men, and I hope no one is offended by this post.

But looking at this information, the Democratic side looks…bad if you care about PennEast.  Very bad.  Plumbers Local 9 is giving $7,800 – that union includes natural gas pipe fitters as well.  Sheetmetal workers and Steelworkers unions are giving a combined $6,000.

In a township fighting for its life against the pipeline, this is simply not acceptable.  Think back to the Trenton scoping meetings, the ones on Frenchtown.  Think of the ring of union workers around the rooms.  Money from those same union workers sent to intimidate PennEast opponents is now going to Richard, Heron, and Corby’s campaign.

Think of the union people blocking hallways and doorways at the South Hunterdon High School informational forum about PennEast back in 2014.  Yep, they’re paying to get Richard, Heron, and Corby elected here in West Amwell.

Think of those union workers who were paid to drive for hours to get down to the Garden State Expansion meeting in South Jersey and intimidate the NJDEP.  Those same workers are sending their money clear across the state from New Brunswick and Englishtown and even New York State to buy West Amwell’s election.

Full Disclosure:

West Amwell Citizens Against the Pipeline received a $250 donation from Richard Corby & Heron for West Amwell Township Committee.  It is being used for more anti-pipeline signs and website fees.

West Amwell Township donated $300 to support and


EPA Continues Criticism of FERC

Opponents of the PennEast pipeline cheered when EPA weighed in (among many other agencies) about the inadequacy of the FERC Draft Environmental Impact Statement.  It seems like finally other agencies are noticing how lax FERC is in following its own regulations.

Yesterday, the EPA continued this trend with a criticism of another pipeline project.  The EPA filed comments on a Final EIS for the Columbia Pipeline Leach  XPress and Rayne Xpress expansion projects.  The Mountaineer XPress project is a monster proposal with 160 miles of pipeline plus other assorted impacts.  All told it’ll move 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day..

It is clear from reading this filing, along with the past comments on PennEast, that the EPA is getting fed up with FERC.

The EPA commented on the Mountaineer Draft EIS several months ago, and found similar deficiencies to PennEast’s (they rated it “Environmental Concerns, Insufficient Information” just like on PE).  And while they thanked FERC for addressing a few things in the Final EIS for Leach XPress, they still found glaring holes you could drive a Mack truck through…

In particular, the EPA objected to the following:

  • They found FERC made assertions about alternatives to the project without including any rationale, data, or facts to back up those assertions.  In particular, EPA asks they evaluate another pipeline called the Mountaineer XPress as an alternative.  FERC said Mountaineer was “not a viable alternative” – and nothing else.  This may sound familiar to PennEast opponents.
  • EPA objected to information about above ground facilities including Compressor Stations to be incomplete and inadequate to access their impacts.
  • EPA pointed out that the DEIS did not indicate how much compression would be used at one of the stations.  FERC says they won’t know until the “final design” is in (which would be well after any approvals).  EPA was not happy with this and says they will hold FERC responsible for any emissions overages because of this lack of information.
  • FERC completely ignored indirect Green House Gas (GHG) emissions.  EPA and FERC are directly butting heads here.  The EPA says NEPA and the Counsel for Environmental Quality (CEQ) indicate that such impacts are easily foreseeable, and demand that they be included in an EIS.  FERC says “no”.  Expect a big battle here.
  • EPA objects loudly and strongly that FERC uses improper methodology for characterizing emissions and that FERC is ignoring CEQ guidance.
  • FERC is accused of ignoring an outsized adverse impact on low-income populations, and that further they are not properly engaging those stakeholders.  EPA repeatedly mentions that FERC is not engaging in “meaningful involvement” of the community.   This may sound a bit familiar as well.
  •  The pipeline company said they would respond to noise issues from the compressor station “within one year”.  The EPA points out how ludicrous that is and demands that responses be immediate or as soon as possible.
  • EPA feels that the XPress EIS does not document attempts to avoid and minimize impacts to aquatic resources.  FERC just makes assertions here without any proof to back it up.
  • Related to the above, this EIS completely lacks a wetlands compensation mitigating plan.
  • The EIS has no Migratory Bird Conservation Plan.
  • EPA objects that FERC “recommends” certain procedures to the pipeline company which in fact should be mandatory.
  • EPA accuses FERC of allowing the pipeline company to submit plans that allege that they will not contribute to climate change or its impacts – without proof of those statements.
  • The EPA is concerned that the pipeline company is asking for a waiver to avoid fish spawning seasons for no good reason.
  • The EPA asserts that no meaningful analysis was given to surface water impacts during hydrostatic testing of the pipeline and related activities.

The message from the EPA to FERC is pretty clear here.  FERC routinely either lacks vital information to make an informed decision on their EIS’.  Or, worse, they often go against the clear meaning of NEPA and the guidelines of the CEQ.  And while the EPA can’t directly go after FERC for these things in this particular forum, they certainly can fire shots across FERC’s bow.  And that’s exactly what these are.  All of the “recommendations” from the EPA to FERC in this document is code for “FERC, you are vulnerable to law suits on this huge laundry list of issues.  Get your act together!”.

Unless FERC has a massive turn around, I expect the same sorts of problems with the PennEast FEIS (and possibly worse), and hopefully EPA will call them out on that as well.

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A farewell message from ex-FERC Commissioner Tony Clark

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has five commissioners which are responsible for all major decisions the agency makes.  FERC, which oversees permitting and regulations of interstate natural gas pipelines like PennEast (among other energy infrastructure and market areas), is run as a “quasi-judicial” agency of the Federal Government.  They’re not run at all like an agency like the EPA or National Park Service, they have a budget funded by the industries they regulate, and they tend to make decisions within that tight group of 5 people.

As luck would have it, the numbers at FERC have been dwindling.  While it is supposed to have 5 members, it’s actually been operating with only 4 for awhile now:

  • Norman Bay, Chairman
  • Cheryl LaFleur, Commissioner (previously Chairwoman)
  • Colette Honorable, Commissioner
  • Tony Clark, Commissioner

Tony Clark’s term expired this summer, but he stayed on until the end of September, with September 30th, 2016 being his last day.  Clark was perhaps THE most pro-natural gas person on the commission, and it’s unknown what the commission decisions will look like without him.  They are down to only three commissioners now, and the extra seats are unlikely to be filled until well after the Presidential Election.  Which puts FERC in a bind, given that FERC Commissioners often to have to recuse themselves from various matters where they have had prior interests or have regulated before (this is particularly true of Commissioner Honorable).  If a Commissioner does recuse themselves it’s not clear if FERC can act on that matter – can 2 Commissioners be considered a quorum?  If anyone knows please let me know….

In any case, this dearth of Commissioners may have a chilling effect on FERC’s ability to get anything done for the next several months. This puts some questions on the table about the timing of FERC’s Final EIS, which the project will come out in December 2016 (only 2 months away).

We can get some insight into how FERC is run, and how it sees its role in the Federal Government from ex-Commissioner Clark himself.  As luck would have it, Mr. Clark gifted the world with a podcast on his last day with the agency.  The full transcript of that podcast is available here:

Link to Tony Clark’s Farewall Podcast Transcript

If you wonder why FERC acts the way it does, and perhaps seems so tone-deaf to the world around you, this podcast may give you some answers.

When asked if he found anything surprising after serving a full term at the agency, Mr. Clark said:

I’ve seen from the inside now an agency that I think actually works quite well, sometimes in a dysfunctional town.   I point to FERC […] as one that operates in a very functional way.

(queue jaw drop of those dealing with the FERC pipeline permitting process).

Yes, this is how one of the FERC Commissioners feels about their agency.  In a world of dysfunction, FERC is the shining beacon of an agency that really gets it and works “quite well”.

He goes onto to talk about how FERC is respected by judges and the courts:

And I think it’s because it’s an agency that when it makes a decision works very, very hard to ensure that it’s making it based on a record in a very nonpolitical way and does it in a way that can be explained so that a judge or justices can look at that record that we made, the decision we made and known that it was done in a reasonable way.

Notice here that Mr. Clark very carefully talks about how FERC builds up a record and drives to be non-political.  It is not so much about what decisions are made – that is clearly besides the point to Mr. Clark – the entire point of the game is that you fill out the forms in exactly the right way, and you demonstrate to a judge that your arbitrary decision was “reasonable”.

He goes onto praise the model on which FERC is built:

Yeah, I think it works quite well on the whole, maybe this is the surprisingly thing that I’ve worked for over 15 years now in regulatory agencies, but I think the independent regulatory commission model of government for certain areas works very, very well and I think the energy industry is one of them.

When you’re talking about something as important as energy, which is critical to the economy, safety, well-being of the nation’s economy, our people, critically important. You want to have decisions that are made in a nonpartisan, nonpolitical way. So you have expert agencies that are made of members with a professional staff providing guidance but commissioners who are appointed for a term of office and are insulated from some of the day-to-day politics that might otherwise go on. And through these quasi-judicial, quasi-administrative agencies you can make decisions that are really in the public’s interest, and what you get when you have a five-member commission like that is you can have a process by which decisions are made on that record.

What Mr. Clark is saying here is that the old dirty, messy “adversarial” way that most courts and agencies are run get in the way of getting things done.  By “adversarial”, I mean a system where voices can be heard equally on both sides of an issue.  It’s a very fundamental aspect of any true democracy.

FERC doesn’t work that way, and Mr. Clark likes that.  Rather than have politics and the public intrude and mess everything else, we have an “expert” agency of “professional staff” who are shielded from all that nonsense, and a group of 5 God-like beings who make all of the decisions in a vacuum chamber.  The concept of an adversarial system where parties can question each other, look directly at evidence, and challenge assumptions just gums up the works in an agency like this, so it’s thrown away.  Instead, we should all just trust these Experts and Professionals to look at the data themselves, and trust these benevolent parental figures make the right decisions for us kids.

When you’re “you’re talking about something as important as energy”, it’s important to not get distracted by trivial things like landowners rights and the environment.

Mr. Clark goes on to say that he doesn’t have any job lined up just yet.  He’s going to take off a “couple of weeks” and he “[doesn’t] have any particular job lined up or anything like that”.  On the savings from a government salary he’s just going to coast into the Holiday season with no job prospects on the horizon.  Once he’s done sipping his Tequila Sunrises off on some beach, anyone want to bet what industry’s doors he might go knocking on for a high paying job?

So if you’re wondering why FERC seems to never listen to any real stake holders, why they seem insulated from their world, and the judgements often come across as tone-deaf, now you no why.  It’s not accident – this is how the agency is modeled, and they really, really like it that way.

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Anatomy of a Pipeline Explosion: Salem, PA

On Friday April 29th, 2016 at around 8:13 am, something horrible occurred in Salem, PA.  Workers at the Delmont Compressor station heard a massive explosion, and determined that one of their nearby Spectra Energy Texas Eastern natural gas transmission pipelines had been breached and exploded.  They began the shutdown process on the line, and reported the explosion to the National Response Center about an hour later.

The plume of gas and resulting smoke from the fire was so huge it showed up as a false weather front 40 miles long during the weather segment of the news.

In its wake, the explosion and resulting fire devastated the community. It left a hole 1,500 feet in diameter, and 40 acres of land were burned.  Here is a chopper view of the blast site at Gilli’s Lane and Route 819 in Salem Township, PA:


The road was closed for days afterwards.  And here’s what the site used to look like, courtesy of Google Earth:


The approximate site of the breach is marked near the bottom-middle of the picture in red.

“House A”, 200′ from the breach, was completely destroyed and razed to the ground, along with all the trees surrounding it.

This is house “A” after the breach:


House “B” was 800′ away from the breach.  It was so hot that the vinyl siding melted from the garage:


A 26 year old man was admitted to the hospital with 3rd degree burns over 75% of his body.  Trees and telephone poles thousands of feet from the explosion were charred and smoking  hours after the incident occurred.


As with many blasts, the blast zone and heat focus was asymmetrical due to the terrain and the exact nature of the blast.  In this case, the pipeline was in a bit of a valley.  Geography and prevailing winds pushed the heat towards House A and House B.



The Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), who is charged with regulating pipeline safety, performed a preliminary inspection and determined that it had “identified evidence of corrosion along two of the circumferential welds: one at the point of failure and another excavated after PHMSA’s response to the Failure Site. The pattern of corrosion indicates a possible flaw in the coating material applied to girth weld joints following construction welding procedures in the field at that time”.

A spokesman for the pipeline company, Spectra Energy, stated that an inspection in 2012 “revealed no areas requiring repair or remediation before the next inspection”. Records were checked for seismic activity or other construction that might have impinged on the pipeline, but no definitive conclusion was reached.

Fast forward five months, to September 2016, and clearer picture emerges. As it turns out, Spectra’s comment immediately after the blast was very carefully worded. While they may not have found any areas “requiring repair”, they did in fact find corrosion at this exact site.

And not just a tiny bit.

In fact, Spectra admitted that a routine inspection in 2012 showed a 30% decrease in the thickness of the pipeline wall precisely in the location where the pipeline blew.

Let that sink in. Thirty. Percent.

Despite this, a Spectra Energy spokesperson was quoted said this about the “It was very small. It was smaller than any threshold we would have been required to investigate”.

What this means is that Spectra believed that 30% decrease in pipeline thickness was no cause for alarm, and they let it sit there un-inspected for another 4 years until the explosion happened.

They remain mystified as to why it occurred. Maybe the gas was too hot, with the breach happening near the compressor station. Maybe the tape used to join welds was bad. Or maybe it was “something else” local to that site.

The pipeline company shrugs and apologizes profusely to the family of the man who was burned over 75% of his body. There are “no words” for he went through, they say, and in the next sentence they go onto explain that their models and “the science” indicated that what happened could not have happened.

I believe strongly in Science, being an engineer by profession for nearly 30 years. But not in “Science” where arbitrary numbers and models are used as an excuse for a company to cut corners.

Comparison to PennEast

All this information is particularly chilling when you compare and contrast the Spectra Texas Eastern pipeline with the PennEast one.

The Texas Eastern line was 30″ in diameter, and was most likely considered a “class 1” or “class 2″ location in terms of safety (this is determined by how many residences or businesses are close to the pipeline).  At the time of the blast it was operating at about 1,039 pounds per square inch (psi), with a maximum allowable pressure of 1,050 psi.

This is a bit smaller than PennEast and at lower pressure (PennEast is 36” in diameter with a maximum pressure of 1480 psi).  Hence a breach of PennEast would result in a larger area of devastation than in these pictures.

As mentioned above, the Spectra Pipeline lost 30% of its thickness.  What if something similar happened with PennEast?  Most of our areas are classified as Class 1 or Class 2 like the explosion in Salem, PA, so we have apples to apples in that regard.

We also have the thicknesses for PennEast from a previous blog post on that topic.  Assuming Class 2 pipe, that’s 0.634″ thick (for contrast:  class 4 pipe, the safest, would 0.951″).

A loss of 30% of thickness would drop the pipe from that down to only .444 inches. For reference, the safety margin for the pipeline would be eliminated entirely at a thickness of .38″.  So the equivalent situation for PennEast would be an inspection from 2012 allowing a pipeline to go on with only 0.06″ safety margin in the pipeline thickness.

Why do we care about this?  Because FERC is allowing PennEast to run PennEast a LOT closes to houses than the case of the Salem blast.  Remember, in the Salem blast a house 200′ feet away was burned down by a smaller pipeline with less pressure than PennEast.

Here’s the Kelly-Mackey farm on Sanford Road.   The HDD tunnel entrance for the pipeline will be about 65′ from their farm house.


Here is the pipeline construction near Old Route 518 in West Amwell.  The pipeline will be 100′ from one house, and 50′ from another.


The Lower Mall at Route 33 in PA:


These are just a few of many. In all, the PennEast Draft Environmental Impact Statement identified many  structures and houses that would be a mere 50′ from the pipeline construction.  Hundreds more are within the same 200′ zone as the “House A” that was burned to the ground by a smaller pipeline under less pressure.

This is why people worry, and this is why people protest.  Pipeline companies ignore signs of corrosion and serious issues, and wait years to reinspect known areas that have problems.  They deliberately build pipelines near homes and schools and commercial centers, and then just shrug and write off the loss if an explosion happens.

FERC needs to wake up and disallow this sort of thing.  Ignorance was acceptable in the 1950’s when we knew so little about…well, most everything.  But this is 2016.  We know pipelines corrode and that often the pipeline companies have no idea why.  We know they explode.  So why on Earth are you still allowing them to endanger our lives in this way?


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