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PennEast foes say company is making false statements in bid for public support

Frenchtown residents protest the PennEast Pipeline.

Emma Lee / WHYY

Frenchtown residents protest the PennEast Pipeline. Opponents say the company is misleading the public about FERC's position.

Opponents of the proposed PennEast Pipeline are accusing its builders of making false statements about what the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has said about the project.

The PennEast website invites supporters to sign a form letter to FERC urging it to give final approval to the project on the basis that FERC has said the pipeline will deliver low-cost energy without doing significant environmental harm. The form letter also says that FERC has concluded that no other pipeline could meet projected demand.

“FERC has determined that the demand for the PennEast pipeline cannot be met by existing pipelines or other proposed pipelines,” the form letter says.

Both assertions about FERC statements are misleading, according to the Eastern Environmental Law Center, a public-interest law firm, which wrote to the regulator on Aug. 15, urging it to direct PennEast to withdraw the statements.

The center, which is representing the environmental groups New Jersey Conservation Foundation and ReThink Energy NJ, said that, contrary to the PennEast form letter, FERC has made no public statements about the project’s effects on the cost of energy. The law center also noted that the agency’s Final Environmental Impact Statement made no determination on whether the need for the pipeline exists.

The statement said in April that the pipeline could be built without significant environmental damage.

The project, which would carry natural gas about 120 miles from the Marcellus Shale in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania to Mercer County, New Jersey, has encountered strong resistance from residents in some parts of the route.

Regulators have also slowed progress. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection blocked applications for water-crossing permits on the grounds that they were administratively incomplete, and will not review the applications until all required documents are received, said DEP spokesman Neil Shader.

In New Jersey, environmental officials in June rejected PennEast’s latest application for water-quality permits, saying they too were incomplete. The company said it would reapply.

Tom Gilbert, campaign director for the environmental groups, said PennEast is trying to win public support by making inaccurate statements.

“A key part of PennEast’s strategy is to mislead the public,” Gilbert said in a statement. “Rather than dealing with the real unanswered questions in its application, PennEast is trying to paper over its docket with inaccurate statements.”

In its letter to FERC, the law center rejected PennEast’s assertion that it has “demonstrated irrefutable demand” for the pipeline, saying that the statement does not provide a factual basis on which FERC could make a final determination to approve the project.

“Conclusory statements of this nature, whether they originate from PennEast, or from individuals resubmitting PennEast’s conclusory language, could not and do not constitute factual data demonstrating significant evidence of substantial public benefit and use,” the letter says.

PennEast spokeswoman Pat Kornick denied claims that the company made false statements on its website. “PennEast is focused on receiving its Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity approving the PennEast Pipeline project and has no need to misconstrue facts,” she said.

FERC is expected to issue the certificate for the line sometime this summer, a decision that would allow PennEast to take land by eminent domain from landowners who reject its offers of compensation. The expected approval – the last one needed from FERC — would follow the recent U.S. Senate approval of two Trump Administration appointees to the commission, giving it a quorum for the first time since February.

The law center reiterated its request to FERC to hold an evidentiary hearing which would examine the need for the pipeline, based on data on the agency’s docket. It also urged the agency not to allow PennEast’s “continuing narrative that it has demonstrated ‘irrefutable demand’ to stand in the face of its administrative record showing otherwise.”

FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen said the agency does not comment on matters that are awaiting a decision by the commission. She said the commission will address the law center’s request for an evidentiary hearing when it issues an order on PennEast.

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