New Jersey rejects PennEast application for water permit for now, gives company new deadline

In this April 17, 2014 photo, workers construct a gas pipeline in Harmony, Pa.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

In this April 17, 2014 photo, workers construct a gas pipeline in Harmony, Pa. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has given PennEast 30 days to correct deficiencies in its water crossing permits.

The embattled PennEast natural gas pipeline suffered another blow on Wednesday when New Jersey officials rejected the company’s current application for a freshwater wetlands permit, saying it lacked a long list of information.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection gave PennEast another 30 days to submit information ranging from tax maps and historic property information to evidence that landowners have given permission to build the line on their properties, and survey data for water crossings.

The DEP also noted that the company said it had applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a certificate of public convenience, which would grant the company eminent domain authority. But so far, too many landowners have refused access to their properties for surveys.

“The application to FERC for a certificate of public convenience does not yet have legal authority to condemn the pipeline easement,” officials said in a letter the company.

If the additional information is not received within 60 days, the application will be considered withdrawn, the DEP said.

Pat Kornick, a spokeswoman for PennEast, said the company expects to receive the FERC certificate this summer. That expectation was based on the federal agency’s final Environmental Impact Statement for the project, issued on April 7, which said the pipeline could be built with minimal environmental impact.

Meanwhile, “PennEast will continue to provide the necessary information to the NJ DEP,” Kornick said in a statement.

“After nearly three years of review, PennEast has received a favorable Final Environmental Impact Statement from FERC, which determined the PennEast Pipeline Project could be built while also protecting the environment,” said Kornick.

Part of the proposed PennEast pipeline could run through this stretch of land in Bucks County, Pa.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Part of the proposed PennEast pipeline could run through this stretch of land in Bucks County, Pa.

The project has been strongly opposed by environmental groups, who argue that the line would endanger natural habitat on its approximately 120-mile route from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania to Mercer County, New Jersey. It has also met widespread opposition from the communities where it would be built, most of which are in Pennsylvania.

In March, PSEG Power, New Jersey’s biggest utility, and one of three New Jersey investors in PennEast, said it was considering selling its stake in the project. Opponents said the company’s statement was a sign that the project was in trouble.

The project was given a water-quality permit by the Pennsylvania DEP in February. But In November last year, New Jersey’s Office of Rate Counsel, an advocate for ratepayers, said PennEast had failed to explain why the pipeline is needed and had not justified its profit projections.

The project also needs permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which said in an April 21 letter that it needed the company to supply more information including the delineation of waterways, and cultural resource surveys in order to process its application. Given the volume of extra information needed, it is “simply impossible” to say when a decision would be made on the permit, the Corps said.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, predicted that it could take PennEast a year to submit the information demanded by DEP.

“Not only has DEP rejected PennEast’s application because it is deficient but given the mass of information, it could take up to a year for them to file again,” he said.

The project, which would cross under the Delaware River, also needs a permit from the Delaware River Basin Commission.

Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, said it’s a victory for landowners who have stood their ground and refused to allow surveyors on their property.

“In this case, the DEP is listening to the public because PennEast can’t get that data and PennEast is barreling ahead but DEP is saying hey wait a minute, slow down, we don’t have enough information to proceed,” said O’Malley.

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