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PennEast pipeline faces scrutiny

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World Pipelines,

PennEast's most recent claims of public benefit don't hold up to serious scrutiny, according to documents filed on 1 December by the Eastern Environmental Law Centre (EELC) with the federal agency deciding whether to approve the project.

"PennEast's arguments are after-the-fact rationalisations for a project that isn't needed to meet existing or future need," said Jennifer Danis, Senior Attorney for EELC, which – together with Columbia University Environmental Law Clinic – made the filing within the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on behalf of New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJ Conservation) and Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association (SBMWA).

The filing included new research from gas market expert Skipping Stone that affirms recent comments and analysis from New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel – the consumer watchdog for utilities issues. Both experts conclude that there is no need for the PennEast pipeline and that costs to consumers could increase rather than decrease.

"PennEast continues to claim public need for a pipeline that's really designed for private profit," said Tom Gilbert, Campaign Director of NJ Conservation and ReThink Energy NJ. "That does not justify damaging tax payer preserved lands, polluting pristine waterways, or taking land from hundreds of homeowners through eminent domain."

Skipping Stone concluded that affiliated consortiums like PennEast "have resorted to project justifications based on largely unsubstantiated and ill-defined justifications such as 'increased reliability' or 'cost-savings'." Skipping Stone found no evidence that PennEast would improve reliability or result in cost savings, and asserted: "FERC should be the first line of defence against certifying uneconomic projects like PennEast."

"In effect, PennEast is saying 'believe us because we say so’," said Jim Waltman, Executive Director of SBMWA. "The Rate Counsel and independent energy experts have refuted all of PennEast's false claims of need."

The filing was in response to PennEast's October 12 submission to regulators in the ongoing controversy about the health, safety and usefulness of the proposed 118 mile pipeline. Federal regulators recently delayed by two months the date for deciding whether to approve the pipeline.

In the 1 December filing, EELC also criticised changes PennEast filed last month to its proposed pipeline route. Saying the changes fail to address defects in the company's draft environmental impact statement, the filing called the alterations "nothing more than an attempt to propel this destructive project on a fast track."

In its recent comments to FERC about the lack of need for the pipeline, the Rate Counsel stated: "While the faith demonstrated in 'if you build it, they will come' makes for a wonderful movie plot, it cannot be the basis for building an enormously expensive greenfield pipeline." Rate Counsel also dismissed ancillary claims of public benefits, saying: "PennEast does not even allege, much less show, that there is an existing lack of supply diversity or flexibility."

In earlier comments, Rate Counsel concluded that the main reason for the pipeline proposal is profits that would be "unfair to ratepayers" and akin to "winning the lottery." Several state and national agencies – including the federal Environmental Protection Agency, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and US Fish and Wildlife Service – have also raised serious questions about the proposed project.

NJ Conservation, SBMWA and EELC urged FERC not to proceed with approving the pipeline because, "despite PennEast's assertions to the contrary, the record contains insufficient evidence of project need."

"This self-dealing project only serves the companies behind PennEast – PSE&G, South Jersey Gas, New Jersey Natural Gas, and Elizabethtown Gas," said Gilbert.

The FERC deadline for public comment on the PennEast docket is 5 December.

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