Environmental Groups Sue over Approval of South Jersey Gas Pinelands Pipeline

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Environment New Jersey Research and Policy Center

Trenton –The New Jersey Sierra Club and Environment New Jersey are suing the Pinelands Commission and the Board of Public Utilities on their approval of the South Jersey Gas pipeline in the Pinelands. Despite previous determination that the pipeline does not fit the needs of the Pinelands, the Commission’s Executive Director unilaterally determined the pipeline was consistent with the Comprehensive Management Plan, when South Jersey Gas told the BPU it is purposed to serve areas outside the Pinelands for reliability. This decision circumvented a public hearing and further vote by the Pinelands Commission, which we believe is against the Pinelands Protection Act. After Wittenberg’s determination, we also believe the BPU violated the law by removing local jurisdiction without finding the pipeline is in the public interest or consistent with the CMP. The environmental groups are hoping to overturn these determinations in court.

“We are suing the BPU and the Pinelands Commission to protect the Pinelands from this damaging and unnecessary pipeline. Today we are doing the job that the Pinelands Commission is supposed to do, which is to protect the Pinelands. Instead the Pinelands Commission’s Executive Director have worked with the BPU to sell out the environment to South Jersey Gas. Even though the Commission turned this project down, Executive Director Wittenberg unilaterally determined the pipeline is a private development for use in the Pinelands which is not accurate based on the Comprehensive Management Plan. We are also suing because Wittenberg violated Pinelands laws by prohibiting the Commission from a further vote and prevented the public from having a hearing,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Wittenberg’s decision allowed the Commission to hide behind having a final say and let the BPU to rubberstamp this damaging pipeline. The BPU has no reason to approve this pipeline because they have not determined the pipeline is in the public interest. These decisions must be examined in court and should be overturned.”

Not only will South Jersey Gas pipeline destroy environmentally sensitive land, threaten our water supply, but it will keep a polluting power plant called B.L. England. This plant will be the largest source of greenhouse gases in the region, despite the PJM grid operator modeling for its shutdown. By serving a power plant outside the Pinelands, whose gas will go into the grid and not serve people living in the Pinelands, this pipeline clearly goes against laws in place to protect the Pinelands.

“The Pinelands National Reserve is an ecological oasis, not a convenient conduit for gas pipelines to tear up. The attempt by Pinelands Commission staff to circumvent the public and the Pinelands Commissioners was a sneak attack on the integrity of the Commission,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “We are proud to legally challenge this unlawful coup with the New Jersey Sierra Club. The Pinelands National Reserve was created to keep out fossil fuel pipelines and the Comprehensive Management Plan can’t be ignored to sneak in rubberstamped projects. The Christie Administration’s BPU has a love affair with natural gas pipelines and we shouldn’t be building pipelines through the Pinelands. The Christie Administration lost their previous attempt to ram through the South Jersey Gas pipeline through the Pinelands Commission and preceded to boot off Commissioners who opposed the pipeline. We urge the Superior Court to reject this pipeline mulligan to protect the integrity of the Pinelands Commission and the ecology of the Pine Barrens.”

The groups are suing in hope the Pinelands Commission reconsiders the pipeline’s consistency with the management plan through a public process including a hearing and formal findings of fact, which would reverse the BPU’s decision. In addition, the groups hope to override the municipal land use authorizations that South Jersey Gas would otherwise need, forcing the agency to proceed with authorizations in each municipality in Upper Township, Estell Manor, and Maurice River Township. The groups are being represented by Renee Steinhagen of NJ Appleseed.

“The BPU and Nancy Wittenberg have both manipulated the system and laws to push this project through. They have worked together to game the system on behalf of South Jersey Gas. This has not only hurt the environment, but the wallets of the ratepayers. Even though South Jersey Gas told the BPU it is a resiliency project for use outside of the Pinelands, the BPU helped them violate the law without looking at environmental impacts or its impacts to the Pinelands,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The BPU’s notion that this is for reliability is full of hot air because it is meant for the B.L. England, which is outside of the Pinelands and the gas could go anywhere. However, the BPU would have never been approved it if Nancy Wittenberg didn’t hand it off to them. By going around the Pinelands Commission, she has committed one of the biggest environmental shams in state history because this pipeline clearly violates the CMP and dismantles 40 years of Pinelands protections.”