Almost a year and a half ago, I was asked to speak at a meeting of DTCAP (Delaware Township Citizens Against the Pipeline). Among the organizers were Charles Slonsky and Marty Wissig, and they asked me to do something a little different: could I do a presentation that would inject some hope into people? Charles had observed that as time marched on and people attended more and more meetings about PennEast, the rooms would get more and more sullen, and over time more and more attendees would come out depressed, downtrodden, frustrated, and angry (or more likely, all of the above).
What Charles and Marty told me was that people were just being constantly hit with an avalanche of bad news about the project. How FERC always approved these projects, how PennEast had the upper hand in every negotiation, how the regulatory deck was stacked against us in Pennsylvania, how the administration in NJ was bending the process here in our state, and on and on and on. Etc. etc.
We were giving them nothing but bad news, and people can only take so much of that.
So Charles had the brilliant idea of a “wins” segment in the meeting. This would be a segment where we would highlight positive news, and in particular we would talk about any sort of “wins” we could stack up against PennEast or other pipeline projects.
I put the presentation together and walked the crowd through it at the DTCAP meeting. And – despite my jitters in speaking to a packed auditorium at the Delaware township school – the presentation was a smash hit. Charles was exactly right, people needed a shot in the arm and encouragement that all was not lost, and that these projects can be beat.
That presentation electrified the room and got a lot of people out of their funk.
Since then DTCAP and others have regularly highlighted “wins”, and we have been fortunate that there have been a lot of them. That includes the denial of the Constitution Pipeline by NYDEC on Earth day; the withdrawal of the NED pipeline by its backers; FERC denial of a pipeline and LNG export facility on the west coast for lack of customers; and the recent ongoing delays of the Garden State Expansion project; and many others.
Now, if we step back for just a moment, for the past couple of years it has become clear that a show down was brewing over the explosion of natural gas infrastructure in this country. The massive volumes of natural gas freed by fracking came about very quickly, and so industry is rushing to get first mover advantage to build pipelines to move that gas before the market saturates, and inevitably, tanks. Equally clear is that, in such a gold rush sort of environment, companies would push too far and too hard, and abuse would run rampant. And FERC’s rubber-stamp policies would magnify those abuses.
As abuse continues and becomes more and more evident to the population, resistance will form. And if the abuse continues for long enough, eventually opposition will expand exponentially, gather itself up, and and then lay poised waiting on a critical event to precipitate it.
In our case, I have believed for awhile now that the PennEast Pipeline is where opposition will gel and people will make a stand. We just needed a single event to act as our seed crystal, and take our super saturated opposition and precipitate it into action.
The DEIS Deadline as Seed Crystal
As it turns out, the deadline for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement was that seed crystal. It was a rallying point where everybody – and I mean everybody – would focus their attention. For months groups have been laboring over their opposition studies, comments, and legal briefs. The issuance of the DEIS on July 22nd accelerated that process as the groups had a concrete entity to pick apart (and boy, was it easy pickings!).
Finally, September 12th came – the last day to comment on the DEIS. That day dropped into our calendars, and all of the PennEast opposition came to a head and accreted around it.
On that remarkable day, FERC recorded 735 submissions against the DEIS. All in one day.
Many of the groups and individuals poised against the project waited until that final day to enter their submission, and as a result the full weight of opposition was not known until that point.
What we actually saw on that day was hammer blow after hammer blow after hammer blow against the project. It was not “the usual suspects” giving vague assertions about imagined dangers. It was a series of detailed, nuanced, in-depth analysis, research, and facts pulled together over many months – all indicating how bad the project was, the inadequacies of the DEIS, and the extent to which FERC overstepped its bounds.
There have been many meetings with a “wins” section since Charles’ brilliant suggestion all those months and years ago. But there has never been a “wins” report anything like this one…..
The organizations behind those hammer blows was also a shock in some cases. The EPA, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the NJ Rate Counsel went out of their way to point out the wholesale litany of inadequacies in the DEIS. The NJ State Agricultural Development Committee and NJ Department of Environmental Protection also have continued to moderate their enthusiasm for pipeline projects and offered very strongly worded objections to the DEIS and the PennEast proposal.
In no particular order, I want to highlight just some of those hammer blows that have brought PennEast to its knees. Note that this list is by no means exhaustive – it would take weeks to highlight all of the many splendid submissions that individuals, municipalities, and organizations against PennEast labored to put on the docket by the deadline.
Hammer Blows Against the DEIS
The TREMENDOUS comments by the NJ Rate Counsel indicating that PennEast is lying about its purpose and need, that rate payers will be unfairly impacted, and FERC should deny the project as there is no public benefit to be derived from it