PennEast: Stop trying to deceive the press and the public

Update: This is the final version of my comments to the FERC protesting PennEast’s unending campaign of deceit against residents and the press.  The FERC submission is available here:

http://elibrary.ferc.gov/idmws/common/OpenNat.asp?fileID=13864522

or here:

Alternate FERC site

==========================================================================

Mike Spille
West Amwell, NJ
May 1, 2015
PennEast: Please tell the truth
PennEast should be chastised for its inaccurate comments to the press and communities

A recent story by the Bucks County Herald highlighted landowner dissatisfaction with you, PennEast LLC, and quoted several landowners in the area who were unhappy with their interactions with the company. When asked for comment your spokesperson, Patricia Kornick, responded that “The vocal voices of the few should not be construed as the overall perception”:

http://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk/launch.aspx?pbid=8cfa36d5-b00d-43c3-8fac-398cf2b87549&pnum=5

The article is on page 5 entitled “Residents Disappointed in private meetings with PennEast”.

Ms. Kornicks’ comment could not be further from the truth, and there is no doubt at all that she is aware of this. Ms. Kornick, and by extension you, PennEast, have been engaged in a strategy of deceit with residents for months since this project was announced. And it’s got to end.

As one of the landowners quoted in the article I take great offense at Ms. Kornicks’s comment, and ask you, PennEast, to issue a retraction for this self-serving and factually incorrect remark, and apologize everyone who is being impacted by this proposal. Furthermore I ask that the FERC should rebuke PennEast and punish them for such behavior to the fullest extent allowable by their regulatory powers.

The way your epresentatives work to deceive and mislead the public during the critical regulatory time of the FERC pre-filing period is not only ethically bankrupt but I suspect also against several federal regulations.

Now if Ms. Kornick genuinely believed that only a “few” people were unhappy with PennEast, and against the pipeline in general, then perhaps that could be forgiven. But the facts are heavily against that argument.

To date, survey permission has been granted by only 30% of the properties affected in NJ. This number is not mine, it comes directly from your regulatory filings. And this is despite the full-court press your company has made to get survey permission in any way they can. Since my land has fallen within the survey corridor I have been asked four times for survey permission, and refused to grant it each time. Every time I talk to PennEast or the land agents this topic comes up. And I am lucky to have such a low number. Many people have rejected far more requests.

Yet despite all this pressure from you, and despite the incredibly high stakes that are being waged, a startling 70% of all impacted landowners are saying “No” to PennEast. In America we don’t call 70% a “few”. We call that a super-majority and it’s almost unheard of.

In addition to this, every town in NJ through which the pipeline is proposed to pass has issued a formal resolution against the pipeline. Every. Single. One. Not one or two. Not a “few”. 100% of them. Not only that, towns that are miles away from the route have also passed the same resolutions. This again is an unprecedented display of municipal solidarity.

I attended the scoping meeting Holland Township back in February. The room was packed to capacity. The parking lot filled up, people had to park along the highway and eventually just gave up or were turned away. Of all the people who came to speak, only two spoke in favor of PennEast. Two. All of the other dozens of people who spoke were against the pipeline. People from all stations and walks of life. Mayors, local leaders. Presidents of conservation movements both regional and national. Farmers. Lawyers. Scientists. Software developers. Graphic artists. Retirees. We all rose up and we all let you, PennEast, know in no uncertain terms that you were not wanted, not needed, and no one believed a word you were saying.

Oh, and the two people I mentioned in favor of PennEast? One was an energy company executive, the other a member of the pipe fitters union.

All of this was seen first hand by Alisa Harris of your company, and is contained in transcripts filed by the FERC as well.

And the Holland meeting was the laid back one. I’ve seen video and heard descriptions of the West Trenton scoping meeting and it was an order of magnitude more hostile to PennEast than the Holland one was!

I see the numbers from my own personal blog about the pipeline, thecostofthepipeline.com. This is a modest effort on my part with no advertising, no media exposure, no massive campaign behind it. It’s just me, speaking out in opposition to PennEast, spreading by word of mouth and grass roots. My modest web site has had thousands upon thousands of visitors since it started only a few months ago.

Not a few. Thousands.

And I’m small potatoes. The Concerned Citizens Against the Pipeline have a facebook page called, appropriately enough, Stop the PennEast Pipeline. That page has 2,347 “likes”. Since its inception it has reached 270,000 unique users with its content. In total it has registered a whopping 985,000 Facebook “impressions” – nearly a million! 27,000 unique users have registered as “engaged” with that content – that is a measure of people who are actively engaging and interacting with the site.

I’ll note that these are all what are known as “organic” numbers. No money is exchanged with anyone to get all these views and hits. It’s all individuals interested in knowing more about your pipeline and how to fight it.

On the FERC site there are over 1,300 submissions containing in aggregate over 3,000 comments. The vast majority of them are from people hostile the pipeline and criticizing the route, the justification, the environmental dangers it poses, the risks to our drinking water, and the contamination of our culture and values in a highly rural set of communities.

These are not a “few” people, Ms. Kornick.

There are a few people who are pro-pipeline in the FERC comments. Christine Kramlich, Jeremy Horning, Shane Clark, Joan Neustadter, Barbara Nawa, and a dozen or so others have written short notes in favor of the pipeline. The only problem is that they’re all employees of UGI, the firm managing your project and who will operate the pipeline. None of them identified themselves as your employees yet they came onto the FERC site to champion your cause. This is
yet another level of deceit layered onto the government and landowners. I have to wonder out loud, again, what federal regulations say about practicing this kind of fraud during the pre-filing regulatory period.

Let’s step back and begin where we started. Look at this mountain of evidence and tell me how on Earth Ms. Kornick can say “The vocal voices of the few should not be construed as the overall perception”? What overall perception is that Ms. Kornick? Are you caught up in your own self-deception and are referring to the dozen UGI employees your company has turned into shills?

Instead I invite you to step into the light and acknowledge the very real opposition of tens of thousands of people who are thoughtfully and intelligently protesting and resisting your company.

In closing I will re-iterate my requests to both PennEast and the FERC. PennEast, please immediately issue a retraction of Ms. Kornick’s statement and apologize to the thousands of us who are united in opposition to your company. And continue that trend by telling us the truth from now on. Stop your campaign of deceit against innocent landowners and residents. Tell the truth and perhaps you will gain some measure of respect and a tiny, incremental piece of trust.

To the FERC I ask you to sanction PennEast to the maximum extent allowable by your controlling statutes. Punish them for their pattern of willfully trying to deceive the public and landowners while they are operating within a federal regulatory review process. I still have some faith in our federal government and I hope to God you will not grant approval to a company who bases their entire strategy on deception and sleight of hand.

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Mike Spille

I'm a thinker, an analyzer, a synthesizer. Maybe not in that order. I live in West Amwell NJ with my wife Kristina, our two kids Day and Z, our two dogs Fern and Cinna, and two cats Ponce de Leon and Xavier.

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