The New Jersey Sierra Club and Environment New Jersey on Jan. 28 said they are suing the New Jersey Pinelands Commission and the state Board of Public Utilities over their approval of the South Jersey Gas pipeline that will run through the environmentally sensitive Pinelands region.
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 (CMP), when South Jersey Gas told the BPU it is purposed to serve areas outside the Pinelands for reliability, the environmental groups said. This decision circumvented a public hearing and further vote by the Pinelands Commission, which they believe is against the Pinelands Protection Act. They 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.
Said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club: “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 [Nancy] 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.”
Not only will the South Jersey Gas pipeline destroy environmentally sensitive land and threaten water supplies, but it will keep a polluting power plant called B.L. England in operation, the groups said. The owner of this plant is shutting down coal-fired capacity there and wants to repower the plant with natural gas, which is a project that has been delayed due to delays for the gas pipeline project at issue here.
Said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey: “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 proceeded 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 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.
“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 Tittel. “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.”
The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities on Dec. 16, 2015, approved a petition filed by South Jersey Gas (SJG) asking that zoning, site plan review and all other municipal land use ordinances and regulations shall not apply to this proposed natural gas pipeline. In doing so the board found that the pipeline project is reasonably necessary for the service, convenience or welfare of the public. Without the board’s approval, SJG would have needed to obtain local approvals from the Upper Township and Maurice River Township.
The mayor and council members from Upper Township appeared at public hearings regarding the proposed pipeline to indicate support for the project, while Maurice River Township officials did not voice opposition at any of the public hearings or in response to any of the petitions filed with the board. Also, the City of Estell Manor and the Board of Chosen Freeholders of Cape May County issued resolutions indicating support for the project.
“This project is yet another case in point where the Board is implementing the policies contained the State’s 2011 Energy Master Plan and demonstrating progress towards the Energy Master Plan’s overarching goals of lowering the cost of energy for customers and promoting a diverse portfolio of clean in-state generation,” said board President Richard S. Mroz at the time. “This proposed pipeline will provide redundancy for approximately 142,000 SJG customers, while also enabling the conversion of the B.L. England power plant from running on coal and oil to running on cleaner natural gas.”
The members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in September 2015 approved an application by RC Cape May Holdings LLC for a waiver of a PJM Interconnection policy related to its stalled repowering of the B.L. England plant. The approved waiver is of the must-offer requirement PJM’s Open Access Transmission Tariff. Specifically, RC Cape May sought a waiver of the requirement to offer the B.L. England plant’s output in the Reliability Pricing Model Incremental Auctions pertaining to the 2017/2018 delivery year. In April 2014, the commission granted a waiver to the PJM Tariff to relieve RC Cape May of the obligation to offer the station’s output in the May 2014 Base Residual Auction pertaining to the 2017/2018 delivery year. RC Cape May stateed that the station remains unable to provide such capacity because South Jersey Gas had not received all of the permits required to construct the pipeline.
The B.L. England plant has two generating units using coal and one using oil. B.L. England is required to comply with several air quality standards for air pollutant emissions under the federal Clean Air Act and applicable state rules. As a result, the plant owner agreed with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to repower B.L. England to natural gas or shut down. As a result, B.L. England ceased using one of its coal generating units (Unit 1, 129 MW) in May 2014.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in 2013 was handling air permitting for the repower project. It said that RC Cape May applied for permits to replace 440 MW of coal- and oil-fired units with gas-fired facilities. Replacement units would include a (nominal) 430-MW natural gas fired combined-cycle unit, said the DEP.