By David Cruz
Business and union leaders in South Jersey went on the offensive today, calling environmentalists opposed to the South Jersey Gas pipeline nothing more than alarmists responsible for spreading misinformation and threatening the economic viability of the region. Sen. Jeff Van Drew said opponents are ignoring the genuine energy needs of South Jersey.
“In this process there was a relatively small but very vocal group in the past that expressed certain viewpoints and certain points of view that really did not in any way truly represent what folks are really thinking,” he charged.
Drew says the pipeline will have much less impact on the Pinelands than critics predict and is actually a benefit to the environment because it would make it possible to convert the B.L. England electricity generating plant from a coal and oil-burning facility into one that uses cleaner-burning natural gas.
“It wasn’t all that long ago that those folks who were invested in the environment, cared about the environment, were committed to the environment, were begging to turn this plant over from a coal-burning plant to a cleaner, high efficiency gas-burning plant,” he noted. “What happened?”
But opponents say the senator is not telling the whole story.
“B.L. England is a peaker plant, which means that it didn’t run regularly,” countered Doug O’Malley of Environment New Jersey. “What South Jersey Gas is proposing is to have B.L. England running 365 days a year. It’s gonna make B.L. England one of the largest global warming polluters in South Jersey. It’s gonna create more air pollution in the region and it’s gonna be bad for our air quality.”
Business and union leaders say that the struggling South Jersey economy needs the kind of shot in the arm that a 22-mile natural gas pipeline construction project along Route 49 would create. They say jobs — construction, engineering, plumbing, etc. — are a benefit that will be realized not only during construction but after the project is completed, too.
“Very often when we talk about natural gas pipelines in general there’s a lot of talk and a lot of focus on the jobs not being local jobs and the jobs not being permanent jobs,” said Greg Lalevee, business manager of the Operating Engineers. “I can tell you as a 30-year operating engineer and the son of a 40-year operating engineer that they are career jobs. Maybe we go from project to project but every time one of these projects comes forth, they’re very good middle class, well-paying jobs.”
But O’Malley says South Jersey Gas profit is driving the project. “If we’re just talking about the economic impact,” he said, “the jobs that will be created by the pipeline would be incredibly outweighed by jobs that we could be seeing in the clean energy sector through energy efficiencies and solar and offshore wind, to say nothing of the fact that the Pinelands is an economic engine, in and of itself, for tourism, but not if we make it a Swiss cheese of pipelines,” he said.
The amended plan, which was re-submitted to the Pinelands Commission as a private development — that is, no longer subject to approval of the full Pinelands Commission — is currently under review at the staff level. Opponents say this is an attempt at circumventing the rules governing the Pinelands. They say they’ll go to court to stop it. A spokesman for the Pinelands Commission couldn’t say when a final decision would be made.