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Policy Recommendations to Improve State Review of Proposed Pipelines

NJ Conservation Foundation
NJ Highlands Coalition
Pinelands Preservation Alliance
Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association
Rethink Energy NJ

Policy Recommendations to Improve State Review of Proposed Pipelines

Background
Multiple infrastructure proposals for new non-renewable energy sources, including oil and natural gas pipelines and transmission lines, have been permitted and constructed in recent years or are pending throughout New Jersey. Pending project proposals include the PennEast, Northeast Supply Enhancement, South Jersey Gas and Southern Reliability Link gas pipelines, and the Pilgrim Oil pipeline. These massive linear developments pose serious risks to natural resources as well as the health and safety of communities in their path. Such projects would also increase the state’s reliance on fossil fuels that contribute to climate change.

The PennEast pipeline alone threatens over 4,300 acres of taxpayer-supported open space, and more than 40 Category 1 streams. The Southern Reliability Link and South Jersey Gas pipelines threaten the Pinelands National Reserve’s delicate ecosystem and the integrity of the Pinelands Act, which was designed to protect the area’s unique ecology. The Northeast Supply Enhancement Project threatens air quality, streams and the Raritan Bay. Pilgrim Oil could jeopardize the Highlands region, source of drinking water for over half the state’s population.

The projects listed above are sponsored by New Jersey regulated utilities or their affiliates, and will be paid for directly by ratepayers even though they do not serve any demonstrated public need and are driven by outdated economic incentives. This would compound economic harm with environmental harm if New Jersey allows them to proceed.  Read More

Lunch and Flyfishing at the Raritan Inn, November 3 2017 at 11 am


 Please join us for lunch and a brief update on legal environmental challenges facing the Highlands area.
November 3, 2017 11:00 am
Raritan Inn
Califon, NJ
A buffet lunch will be served followed by a tour of the beautifully restored  Inn and its grounds (weather permitting).

Interested in fly fishing?  Join us after the tour for guided fishing on the Inn’s privately managed stretch of the South Branch Raritan River.

*Anglers must have a valid fishing license, available online: www.njfishandwildlife.com/als/websalesintro.htm.

Please RSVP by October 10th to Rachel Perten, Development Manager, at (973) 424-1166 or rperten@easternenvironmental.org
Event Committee:
George Cassa, Alliance for Historic Hamlets
Basil & Rilda Hone, Citizens to Save Tewksbury
Robin Love, Residents Alliance for Neighborhood Preservation
 

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Appellate Court sends Highlands permit for sewage discharge back to the DEP

The NJ region’s Highland reservoirs provide drinking water for more than half of New Jersey’s residents. Reservoir flyover, November 1, 2016.

In a long-running story for EELC and friends of Rockaway Creek, EELC Executive Director and attorney Aaron Kleinbaum won a major victory in court in the effort to prevent a sewage disposal plant from discharging into a wild trout stream in the Highlands.   

“This is a significant victory for water quality in the Highlands Region, which is source of pristine drinking water for millions of New Jersey residents,” said attorney Aaron Kleinbaum, Executive Director of the Eastern Environmental Law Center, “NJDEP should have rejected Bellemead’s application for a wastewater discharge permit outright. It fails to meet the basic wastewater planning requirements of the Highlands Regional Master Plan — furthermore NJDEP failed to consult with the Highlands Council, as required by law.”

Believe it or not, it took nearly three years of legal wrangling to get the DEP to do what it is supposed to do under the NJ Highlands Act — to consult the state’s own agency, the Highlands Council, before making decisions on development projects.

National developer Bellemead, who owns a 74-acre property in Tewksbury, has had their sights on a trout stream in the Highlands for almost twenty years, hoping to secure it for sewage disposal from various large-scale planned developments.  Located in the Planning Zone of the Highlands Region, Rockaway Creek is part of the Raritan River Watershed and is recognized as an important recreational and drinking water resource.

In 1998, Bellemead received a wastewater permit to allow 100,000 gallons of treated sewage to flow daily into Rockaway Creek from a planned office park.  The office development was never built, and when Bellemead went to renew the decades-old permit in 2005 to gain rights for sewage disposal for any future development of their properties in Tewkesbury, a flawed Bellemead proposal and a huge public outcry convinced the DEP to deny it.  

By then, New Jersey had decided to protect the Highlands, a region of working farms and historic hamlets which provides drinking water for half of the state’s residents. Under the legislative NJ Highlands Water Protection Act of 2004, development in the region is regulated by a public agency, the Highlands Council, which follows a Regional Master Plan.   

Jump forward nine years after the developer’s application for the sewage disposal permit was denied.  Under a new state administration, the NJ DEP responded to the developer’s appeal of the permit denial by saying yes this time.

The DEP’s decision to approve the Bellemead permit blatantly disregarded the statutory protections for the Highlands region under the Highlands Regional Master Plan.  Despite significant, substantive public comments received in 2011, the DEP reversed its original denial of the sewage permit in 2014.  And the state’s environmental protection agency came to their decision without consultation with the NJ Highlands Council, as is required by law.

Upon learning of the 2014 permit issuance, EELC immediately stepped in to appeal the DEP’s reversal on behalf of the NJ Highlands Coalition, the Raritan Headwaters Association, the Township of Readington and the Sierra Club.  

In convincing an appellate panel of judges to enforce the Highlands Act, EELC relied on an email that showed the DEP had not made the necessary consultation with the Highlands Council nor an assessment of the permit by the Highlands Council of whether such a wastewater discharge was permitted under the Highlands Regional Master Plan.

“We can’t rely on the old system of land use regulation to protect drinking water.   The New Jersey legislature requires that we rely on the Highlands Regional Master Plan,” said the attorney who fought the case, Mr. Kleinbaum.

After nearly three years of decisive legal action, the NJ Appellate Court agreed with EELC and in May 2017 ordered the DEP to reconsider its permit decision and to consult with the Highlands Council in accordance with the law.

“This is an immense victory for regional planning in New Jersey,’’ said Bill Kibler, policy director of the Raritan Headwaters Association. “The court made clear that DEP cannot issue or renew a permit that is inconsistent with the goals of the Highlands Regional Master Plan.’’

Soon after, the Highlands Council fulfilled its role to assess development plans under the Highlands Act and issued a formal determination that the Bellemead sewage permit is incompatible with the resource protections of the Highlands Regional Master Plan. See the May 24, 2017 letter from the Council to the NJ DEP.  

“What is interesting is that the Court made no distinction between conforming and non-conforming municipalities in the Planning Area,” said Elliott Ruga, Policy Director of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition. “Whereas towns in the Planning Area are free to decide whether or not to align local land use ordinances to be consistent with the Highlands Regional Master Plan, it has always been our position that State agencies, such as the DEP, in support of the goals and objectives of the Highlands Act, should uphold the resource protection goals of the RMP in its permit decisions by consulting with the Highlands Council, regardless of the municipality’s conformance status. That the Court has signaled it agrees with our position is a huge win.”

Even with the Highlands Council’s thumbs down on the sewage discharge,  EELC and its clients are waiting to see what  DEP will do. If the permit is denied, Mr. Kleinbaum said that there would likely be continuing appeals by the developer and the need for more legal action to protect the Creek and New Jersey’s drinking water.  

In recognition of the long-term work EELC has done on this case for environmental organizations in the Highlands region, the Highlands Coalition (not to be confused with the public agency, the  Highlands Council) is presenting an award to Attorney Kleinbaum this October.

 

Smart meters and AMI unanimously approved by NJ Board of Public Utilities

A long time in coming, smart meters are almost here. Smart meters will give New Jersey residents real time data on their electricity usage, and consumers will be able to make choices that will conserve energy. For the first time, the NJ Board of Public Utilities approved a proposal for smart meters and Advanced Metering Infrastructure.

Calling Rockland Electric’s proposal for smart meters and Advanced Metering Infrastructure “revolutionary” and “a future we have to embrace,” Commissioner Fiordaliso joined his fellow Board of Public Utilities members in unanimously approving the utility’s plan to provide 74,000 customers near-real-time data on their electrical usage.  EELC represented the Environmental Defense Fund and worked with the utility in making the case to the Board that advanced metering technology should come to New Jersey.  Giving users information on how much energy they are consuming at 15-minute intervals makes it easier for them to conserve energy and gives them a choice not to use energy at certain times of day when demand is high.  

Grid planners use the same data to lower peak demand and integrate more alternative energy sources into the system. AMI also helps utilities get power back on faster and plan for recovery from large storms.

Smart meters and the associated infrastructure have been available in other states for many years.  New Jersey’s lag in adopting them drew the interest of our client, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a national “Big Green.”   Rockland Electric’s petition to the BPU for approval for smart metering infrastructure in New Jersey provided the perfect opportunity for EDF to work on narrowing the growing gap between New Jersey and other states that have deployed AMI.  Today, more than half U.S. households in other states have access to granular data on their electrical usage.   Read More

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Client Feature: NJCF scientist Emile DeVito stewards the Pine Barrens

Dr. Emile DeVito showing a reporter, biologists and conservationists a site with the endangered Pickering’s Morning Glory. The population at this location has been reduced from over 300 plants to just one due to damage to the habitat from illegal off-road vehicles. Courtesy: Jason Howell, Pinelands Preservation Alliance

 

“I’ll have to call you back. I’m rushing an injured snake to the lab.”

Emile DeVito, Manager of Science and Stewardship at the New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJCF), had just finished cleaning up yet another pile of garbage illegally dumped in the New Jersey Pine Barrens when I called.  Hiding among the debris was the injured Eastern Kingsnake which DeVito retrieved and was transporting to Herpetological Associates, Inc., otherwise known as “the lab,” where the snake could be examined by an expert and, if needed, operated on.   The Eastern Kingsnake, DeVito points out, is an “amazing creature” that is immune to rattlesnake venom and preys upon all three of the threatened and endangered snake species in the Pine Barrens, including the Northern Pine Snake.  Read More

State Judge bars Mahwah Hunt & Polo Club from participating in Township’s complaint against Ramapoughs

 

UPDATE: EELC attorneys Aaron Kleinbaum and Raghu Murthy are in court defending the Ramapough against municipal summonses alleging that they have violated the zoning code by constructing teepees on their property.  Teepee summonses amount to harassment, Ramapough attorney argues.

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The Ramapough Lenape Nation – a State-recognized Tribe that owns land in Mahwah, NJ – won an important victory in Court when Judge McGeady announced a September 7, 2017 decision preventing the Hunt & Polo Club from participating along with the Township of Mahwah to prevent the ceremonial use of the Tribe’s property.

Next Thursday, September 15, Judge McGeady will consider the Tribe’s motion to dismiss the Township’s Complaints. The Tribe will argue, among other things, that the Mahwah’s zoning ordinance and prior municipal approvals allow prayer and community cultural assembly at Sweet Water; that the Complaints are impermissibly vague; and that the Township’s harassment violates the Tribe’s sovereignty and the Tribe’s Constitutional right to free religious exercise on its own property. Read More

EELC attorney Danis comments on the need for evidentiary hearing on Penn East pipeline

PennEast urges new FERC quorum to quickly approve pipeline,  State Impact, project of NPR stations, Jon Hurdle, August 11, 2017

From article, “The foundation first asked FERC to hold a hearing on the pipeline last summer, but the regulator never ruled on that request, said Jennifer Danis, an attorney with the Eastern Environmental Law Center, which represents the Foundation.

The motion for a hearing was based on arguments that the pipeline was ‘self-dealing’ in that it would be selling most of the gas to its affiliates, and that there was no demonstrated public need for the pipeline, Danis said.

‘As FERC now has a quorum re-instituted, we’re asking that, rather than just pull the trigger on a certificate with such a shoddy record, they grant our motion for an evidentiary hearing and take a really hard look at whether there’s any public benefit for the project,’ she said.”

 

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nj.com on PennEast’s attempt to fast track PennEast

3 years in, PennEast ask feds to ‘promptly’ approve the pipeline, Kevin O’Shea, nj.com, August 12, 2017.

From article, “Both the letter and its timing with FERC now having a quorum drew swift rebuke from opponents.

‘PennEast asking for an accelerated approval is outrageous and shameful,’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. ‘Their applications and EIS (environmental impact statement) are incredibly incomplete and full of misleading and missing information.’

Tittel said PennEast doesn’t have approval from any major governmental agency.

Said Tittel, of the timing, ‘This is happening because the fossil fool in the White House appointed a quorum at FERC and PennEast is trying to cash in. This is still a seriously flawed proposal.’

Read More

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NJ Spotlight article on Penn East pipeline

The Eastern Environmental Law Center is lead legal council for the pipeline coalition which opposes the multiple unneeded pipelines that are planned to cross New Jersey and the Delaware River.   EELC was instrumental in getting the DEP to require that the Penn East pipeline developer’s application be complete.

 PENNEAST WANTS FAST-TRACK APPROVAL FROM FERC FOR $1B PIPELINE, by Tom Johnson, August 14, 2017.  NJ Spotlight.

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EELC requests FERC hold evidentiary hearing on PennEast project

On Friday, in response to PennEast’s request for FERC to expedite project review, EELC renewed its own request to FERC for a hearing on the proposed Project.  EELC represents New Jersey Conservation Foundation and Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, who oppose the controversial PennEast Pipeline because it has not demonstrated any public benefits. Many others agree – including the New Jersey Division of the Rate Counsel.

EELC Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Danis: “As FERC now has a quorum re-instituted, we’re asking that, rather than just pull the trigger on a certificate with such a shoddy record, they grant our motion for an evidentiary hearing and take a really hard look at whether there’s any public benefit for the project.”

State Impact/NPR: PennEast urges new FERC quorum to quickly approve pipeline

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Yahoo News: Does New Jersey need the PennEast pipeline?

EELC is representing New Jersey Conservation Foundation and Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association to oppose the PennEast pipeline. Many legal hurdles to the pipeline remain even though FERC is now likely to approve the project. As Tom Gilbert explains in this Yahoo News article: “There’s a lot of compelling evidence from credible sources that there’s no need for [PennEast],” Gilbert said. “It’s one thing to have all these impacts if the project is truly in the public’s interest and there’s some legitimate public need for the gas. But several experts have concluded that’s just not the case on this project.”

EELC hosts environmental justice strategy meeting

The North East Environmental Justice Attorney Group Meeting. June 26, 2017

 

The North East Environmental Justice Attorney Group met on Tuesday, June 26, to discuss critical civil rights and environmental issues facing poor and minority communities, including climate change, cumulative polluting impacts, American Indian rights, and how to increase the diversity of environmental bar.  These issues, in the view of many during the meeting, were a challenge before the current Trump administration.  Now, the challenges have increased due to the overall rollback of civil rights and environmental protections.  Read More

State judge dismisses Township of Mahwah’s restraining order against Ramapough Lanape Nation

Update: June 20, 2017 – The Ramapough Lenape Nation – a State-recognized Tribe that owns land in Mahwah, NJ – won an important victory in Court when Judge Powers filed a June 15, 2017 decision vacating the Township of Mahwah’s temporary restraints and Order to Show Cause to prevent the ceremonial use of the Tribe’s property.

On June 13, 2017, the Nation’s legal team, including Aaron Kleinbaum of the Eastern Environmental Law Center, Mahwah attorney Thomas Williams, the Sussman & Associates Law Firm’s Valeria Georghiu, along with the support of the National Lawyers Guild, appeared in Court against the temporary restraining order before Judge Charles E. Powers of the New Jersey Superior Court, Law Division. The courtroom was packed, with over forty Tribe members and supporters. Judge Powers issued his decision in favor of the Tribe two days later.  Read More

EELC helps broker agreement between Bergen SWAN and Suez Water Company

Oradell Reservoir

Last month, EELC helped Bergen SWAN negotiate two agreements with the Suez Water Company, which protect the environment and protect the quality of the Oradell Reservoir’s drinking water supply.

The first agreement involves Suez’s proposed sale of its former headquarters property in Harrington Park. Both the north and south sides of the property border the Reservoir. After negotiations led by EELC, Suez agreed to preserve a large part of the north side as an open space which will serve as a buffer for the Reservoir, and also agreed to add more plantings of native species to the south side, improving its capacity to act as a buffer.

The second agreement involves Bergen County’s proposal to replace culverts on a bridge crossing on Suez property in Closter Borough. After negotiations led by EELC, Suez agreed to require the County to reduce net impervious cover in the area by 0.16 acres, remove invasive species on the shoreline, plant and maintain extensive new native species, and install and maintain inlets that will prevent trash and debris from entering the waterway.

View: Harrington Park letter exhibit

EELC’s  letter on Harrington Park property sale 

EELC’s  letter on Closter culvert replacement 

EELC’s Amicus Curiae motion granted in Meer Tract case

On May 17th, Judge Caposela in Passaic County Superior Court granted EELC’s motion to allow the New Jersey Highlands Coalition to participate as Amicus Curiae, in a case involving the Meer Tract. The Meer Tract is located at Federal Hill, an historically and environmentally important 180-acre property preserved as open space in the Highlands Region, in Bloomingdale Borough.

The Meer Tract provides a significant quantity of clean drinking water to the state every day, and also serves as critical wildlife habitat. The New Jersey Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council, the state body that oversees Highlands development, has scored the Meer Tract as one of the most valuable remaining open spaces in Passaic County.

Tilcon New York Inc. has set forth a plan to clear 45 acres of the Meer Tract for quarrying, which will significantly degrade the quantity and quality of drinking water from this property, and devastate its habitats. The burden of replacing the Meer Tract’s water supply, of course, will fall on New Jersey taxpayers.

As Amicus Curiae, the New Jersey Highlands Coalition will be able to advise Judge Caposela on the environmental impact of Tilcon’s plan, which Judge Caposela has already stated is an issue of “extreme public importance.”

Read EELC’s brief here: FEDERAL HILL brief 5.3.17 530pm