Christmas Comes Early For South Jersey Gas: BPU Rubberstamps Pinelands Pipeline, Puts Fossil Fuel in the Stockings of the Public, Local Towns and Pinelands Commissioners

Media Contacts

Environment New Jersey Research and Policy Center

Trenton – Today, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities during their December board meeting voted to approve the petition to approve the South Jersey Gas pipeline through the Pinelands National Reserve to repower B.L. England, a historic coal peaker plant, as a full-time natural gas plant running full-time. The vote was unanimous, and occurred after 5 minutes of discussion by the Commissioners after a lengthy presentation by the BPU staff.. Commissioner Chivukula abstained from the vote and Commissioner Joe Fiordaliso was absent from the meeting for the first time in 10 years, according to a statement read into the record by President Mroz. The vote echoes a previous vote from July and there was little acknowledgement of the extensive public comment, much of it in opposition to the pipeline. The decision to approve the pipeline by the BPU and repower the B.L. England will create the largest global warming polluter in South Jersey.

Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, released the following statement, after the Board’s decision to approve the pipeline:

“Today’s BPU vote is a rubberstamp decision that circumvents the Pinelands Commission and the public. The vote will lead to a pipeline that tears a massive ecological scar through the heart of the Pines and create the largest global warming polluter in South Jersey in a floodplain. Even worse, today’s vote means South Jersey Gas’ gambit is one step closer to success. Nearly two years after the South Jersey Gas was defeated by a deadlocked vote at the Pinelands Commission, the Pinelands Commission has been fully removed from deciding the fate of the pipeline, the public has been shut out of the decision-making process and even the towns where the pipeline will run are being left out.

Today’s BPU vote only reaffirms the Christie Administration’s love affair with natural gas and arrogance at ignoring the increase in carbon pollution from approving another gas pipeline. On the heels of the warmest year on record and the warmest December in New Jersey on record and the historic Paris climate agreement, Gov. Christie continues to assert that the climate is not in crisis and that the climate is always changing.

Notably, BPU staff rejected any submissions outside of evidence presented by South Jersey Gas or the Christie Administration. The decision to dismiss other evidentiary submissions, including those of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, as merely opinions, shows that BPU tilted the playing field.

Today’s hearing was a kangaroo court presented by the BPU. The decision, supposedly based on a narrow MLUL zoning issue, included a lengthy defense of the South Jersey Gas pipeline through the Pinelands and relied heavily on the submissions of South Jersey Gas.  There was no independent analysis of the project was considered or referenced, no reference to climate impacts or carbon pollutions and no reference to the Pinelands Commission being shut out of a process they deliberated on for months more than two years. There was no justice for the Pinelands today, and this was an early Christmas gift to South Jersey Gas.

Today’s vote also affirms the hypocrisy behind the second go-around for South Jersey Gas. Rejected two years ago because the pipeline was not primarily to serve the Pinelands, the revised application was deemed a private development by Pinelands Executive Director Wittenberg and South Jersey Gas now claims the pipeline is to primarily serve the Pinelands in their application. However, South Jersey Gas argues that the Pinelands pipeline will provide greater reliance to the general are ignoring that energy provided to the PJM grid can be used anywhere, not just in South Jersey. This canard was repeated by the BPU staff and President Mroz as justification for the project as well as the supposed clean air benefits of repowering B.L. England with natural gas.

This vote is the next to last step to fast track a gas pipeline through the Pines, repower a peaker coal plant as a full-running gas power plant in a flood plain and subvert the Pinelands Commission. Environment New Jersey, along with our allies, will consider all potential legal options to oppose these decisions that would lead to the construction of the South Jersey Gas pipeline.”