So yesterday happened. No matter who you voted for yesterday, we’re looking at a very different world coming at us today. There are many unknowns going forward, and I know many people out there are depressed, dazed, confused and hurting. Others are celebrating, some with unbridled zeal, others with a hint of restraint along the lines of “OMG, this is real now…”.
Locally, I cheered to see Rich, Cally, and Hoyer sweep all three West Amwell Township seats, proving that West Amwell can’t be bought for $45,000. And I was very upset to see Kristin McCarthy lose in Delaware Township by just a few percentage points, victim of a last minute smear campaign by her opponent. And Peter Jacob lost, but still ran a remarkable race with zero corporate donations against Leonard Lances $600k+ in money from special interests.
On the National level, a Trump Presidency is going to make things very difficult for those opposed to fossil fuel infrastructure. But all is not lost. Instead, it means we’re all going to have to hunker down and take a careful look at our respectful strategies. FERC has opened up a new 30 day comment period on the project and also pushed the Final EIS date back two months, so we have gained valuable time to regroup.
FERC in a Trump Administration
As I’ve mentioned before, FERC is down to only three commissioners. The timing of the Final EIS being moved along with a final decision date in May, 2017, may have been partially a ploy by the three commissioners to avoid making a decision until more are appointed by the next President.
Now with as Trump President-elect, we pretty much know where that is headed now. This opens the doors for 2 commissioners to be appointed by Trump that could additionally weigh in on PennEast. The way FERC was setup, only 3 commissioners can be the same party as the President. We currently have Norman Bay, Cheryl LaFleur, and Colette Honorable as commissioners, which are all Democrats. This leaves two Republican nominations from Trump immediately, and then a third when Colette Honorable’s term is up June 30th, 2017.
I think it’s pretty plain what FERC will do under Trump.
So we’d have to rely on the courts instead, who I suspect may be getting a whole lot of cases over the next four years, and other agencies to fight pipeline infrastructure.
The EPA and other agencies have been pushing hard against FERC the past year, and we’ve seen delays coming about because of it, and FERC was showing signs of giving into the EPA in some areas. How the EPA will act under a Trump administration is another question altogether. The same is true of Fish & Wildlife and other Federal agencies. What happens to them under Trump could have a profound impact on environmental policy for a very long time.
A bright spot here is that the States remain the stewards of the Federal Clean Water Act, and in NJ the DEP is responsible for both the 401 Water Quality Certification as well as the 404 wetlands one. Even under Trump, NJDEP could potentially stop PennEast and other projects cold. Let’s look at that for a moment.
Right now, the battle in NJ against pipelines is extremely fierce, and many battles are being won by opponents. While the Christie administration’s appointees have been trying to maneuver around the law to get projects approved, opponents have started to learn how to counter that. Recently NJ Sierra Club won a case where the administration tried to sneak the BL England pipeline project through without approval from the Pipelines Commission. The courts have ordered that the Commission has to review the project and can’t be circumvented. This approach will likely be brought against the Southern Reliability Link as well. Both are critical to success for the PennEast owners in regards to PennEast.
In addition, opposition continues on the Garden State Expansion’s 404 wetlands permits. Unprecedented numbers of people turned out in opposition of it, and the project is getting delayed repeatedly. The GSE is the link between PennEast and the Southern Reliability Link. Without it, a huge blow would be struck against New Jersey Resources, the largest shipper on PennEast and 20% owner.
There is also the DRBC and other regional agencies that may be influenced below the Federal Level.
What this means to me is that while we may face increased difficulties at the Federal level, the State level may see intense and increased scrutiny and opposition. There is also the question of what happens to Christie now that Trump has been elected. Unless Bridgegate has fatally killed his career entirely (a possibility), Christie could well be leaving us New Jersey residents for the national stage. If that happens the calculus in NJ opposing pipelines could change for the better.
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