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U.S. Army Corps Okay's Controversial Pipeline Project

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A pedestrian walks by a protest of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline in downtown Philadelphia.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has granted permission for a controversial pipeline project to cross wetlands, rivers and streams in the Delaware River watershed. The Corps issued the permits last Friday. Environmentalists who oppose the project had pinned their hopes on having it blocked by the Corps, which issues the wetland permits. Richard Pearsall, a spokesperson for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Philadelphia, says after reviewing public comments, Corps staff determined the permits are “not contrary to the public interest.”
The Army Corps is not the only entity to approve aspects of the project, known as the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Northeast Upgrade.  Pearsall says the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, is the lead agency, and would still need to approve the Corps’ permits for construction to begin. But that is likely a formality, as FERC has already approved the project overall.
The Northeast Upgrade would add almost 40 miles of additional pipeline in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to transport Marcellus Shale gas to the lucrative East Coast market.
The fresh water wetland permits were the final step in the regulatory process needed to pave the way for the actual trench digging to lay the expanded pipeline.
“They’d have to blast through high-quality and exceptional value streams,” the Delaware Riverkeeper Network’s biologist Faith Zerbe told StateImpact last month. “And cut through [forested] areas that have had no [prior] impact, creating forest fragmentation.”
Protesters have been demonstrating, and recently locked themselves to the gates of the Delaware State Forest, seeking to block tree-felling begun by Kinder Morgan, the parent company of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline.  A court placed an injunction on the protestors, forbidding them from trespassing on Kinder Morgan’s right of way. Environmentalists also protested at the Philadelphia headquarters of the Army Corps.
Jolie DeFeis, a resident of Pike County who has been active in opposing the pipeline, and had been communicating with the Corps, says the decision is a surprise.
“That’s the devastating thing for our group,” said DeFeis. “We pinned a lot of hope on the Army Corps of Engineers. If they’re not looking out for us than who is?”
DeFeis says the Army Corps had assured her that it answers to a separate authority than FERC, and that their analysis would include looking at alternative routes.
“We really truly thought they weren’t going to permit this,” said DeFeis. “I think they just caved.”
DeFeis says her group and others are looking into legal options.

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