I wasn’t able to make the Trenton meeting on Wednesday due to a work conflict, but I made the 40 minute drive last night to attend the single meeting in Hunterdon County.
It was quite an amazing experience.
I got there early at about 5:20 to ensure I was early enough in the queue to be able to speak. There was a list of elected officials who would go first, then a list of everyone else. I was on page four of the “everyone else” list. As it turns out over 70 speakers signed up in total and I spoke around 9:40, so I suspect some people might have gotten bumped due to time constraints.
The vast majority of the speakers were against the pipeline. I think only about 3 of them were pro-pipeline, including a union worker and a woman who worked for an energy company.
A huge number of the speakers ended up being individuals who’s FERC submissions I highlighted here. The Kingwood mayor kicked ass again, demanding that if the pipeline went through all residents of his town would have their wells monitored for a minimum of 10 years.
The woman who started an organic farm because she has severe chemical sensitivities spoke. She eloquently let the committee know that this pipeline was running right through her farm, her own safe source of food.
The “Mr. Butterfoos!” woman from Hopewell NJ spoke in my group of four. It was very moving to hear her describing the land preservation process in detail and to relate the personal history of her farm.
State and local officials testified over and over again how bad this pipeline was. It’s not about NIMBY. It’s about the route going through extraordinarily sensitive areas with no apparent acknowledgement at all from PennEast. A woman from the Sourlands conservancy relayed a story about talking to PennEast in one of the open houses. She asked asked a simple question – “What do you know of the Sourlands?”. Not a single PennEast representative had ever heard of the Sourlands.
A representative of another environmental group talked in depth about various protected species and the different layers of protection available. In his words, it would take years for PennEast to enumerate and study all of the protected species impacted by their route.
I’d heard some scattered reports of union members being present at meetings in an intimidating manner. I saw a bit of that last night. While it was “standing room only” at the meeting, it looks like every single person actually standing around the perimeter of the room was a union employee. I didn’t realize this until a union rep spoke and they cheered and hooted extensively. While they have a right to speak their word just like everyone else, the symbolism of all of them standing in a ring around the room was not lost on me. It was a pretty clear bullying/intimidation measure. I understand to a degree where the unions are coming from – jobs are important. But they seem to obsess on jobs on the exclusion of all else, which seems to be a short sighted policy to me.
The most surprising speaker to me was an emergency management manager from one of the towns in Hunterdon (not sure if it was Kingwood or another town). He pointed out a specific area where the PennEast nat gas pipeline will be crossing a petroleum pipeline. His concern? Terrorism. I hadn’t even thought of this angle, but apparently OEM-type individuals think very hard about domestic terrorism potential of projects. He demanded to know what kind of security PennEast would provide to this critical pipeline crossing area. He pointed out that mere fences wouldn’t work – a potential terrorist could just lob a satchel charge over a fence, or just use a drone to deliver an explosion wherever they wanted.
At one point pretty far into the meeting the usual applause accompanied the wrap up of one of the ecological minded groups that spoke – and a single individual giving intense boos. The boos rapidly escalated into profanity, and after about a 30 second tirade that left the entire group a little non-plussed the individual finally left the auditorium. His gist was “fuck you all, this BS set of regulations is why I can’t get a fucking job!”.
A speaker immediately after his outburst referenced him directly. She stated that she felt for the plight of the unemployed and it’s a serious issue in the state, but building pipelines wasn’t the answer. Instead she mentioned the prospects of both alternative energy providing employment…and jobs for maintaining existing pipelines that have fallen into disrepair.
Only a few people cited the eia.gov numbers on use and consumption, and only in NJ, so I was glad that I focused on that area in my three minutes. While I’m a horrible public speaker, the crowd responded to the numbers – it’s clear this pipeline is massive overkill if you’re just considering the energy requirements of NJ and PA. It’s abundantly clear that they’re thinking of distribution across the country and possibly overseas, which means PennEast is more or less lying to the FERC in their justification for the project. Pointing out that there were only 10 days of extreme price volatility in a 1,824 day period was especially eye-opening to many people.