Delaware River Basin Commission faces pressure to reject PennEast pipeline

  • Hannah Chinn/WHYY

The PennEast pipeline fight has now entered a new phase, but its old foes  — environmentalists and residents from both sides of the Delaware River — are still ready for battle.

At the Delaware River Basin Commission’s first virtual session since the coronavirus shutdown began — a second-quarter business meeting open to the public Wednesday morning — the panel covered a report on hydrologic conditions, a COVID-19-related budget resolution, and more. But for environmental advocates and leaders, the topic of the day was a request by PennEast to construct a natural gas line across dozens of waterways and beneath the Delaware River. The $1 billion project would carry Marcellus Shale gas 116 miles from Luzerne County, Pa., to Mercer County, NJ.

For an hour after the meeting officially adjourned, public commenters decried the pipeline project and called for the DRBC to reject it. Nearly 20 speakers from the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, the New Jersey Sierra Club, the Clean Air Council, and the New Jersey Forest Services, as well as local residents and a retired Lehigh University chemistry professor, spoke about the environmental threat of pipeline construction and requested a more robust review process.

“The decision you render on PennEast is setting the precedent for all future pipelines that pass through the Delaware River watershed,” Maya K. van Rossum, leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, told the commission.

The DRBC’s listening session was the latest episode of public outcry over the PennEast pipeline, which has been pushing for approval for nearly six years. The interstate pipeline gained approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, as well as Pennsylvania, but ran into trouble with New Jersey regulators. PennEast, a group of five energy corporations, now proposes to build the gas pipeline in two sections, or phases: one in Pennsylvania, and one in New Jersey.

New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection refused to review its construction permits because of missing surveys for endangered species, impact on drinking water, and threatened freshwater wetlands. New Jersey’s DEP has also requested a new environmental impact statement for the project, and called the need for an additional natural gas pipeline into question.

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