By Briana Vannozzi
The 22-mile natural gas pipeline through the pine barrens in south Jersey, is one step closer to being built.
“That’s really what’s so wrong with this process is the Pinelands Commission is being shut out as well as the public,” said Doug O’Malley the Director of Environment New Jersey.
The BPU voted unanimously to approve the controversial project that will convert the BL England Power Plant, in Cape May County, from a coal and oil-burning facility into cleaner, natural gas. But opponents say the entire process was undermined last summer after the executive director for the Pinelands Commission tweaked the application allowing it to move forward without oversight from the public or the commission.
“The reason she did that was because two years ago when they actually had a hearing and a chance to vote they voted it down,” said Jeff Tittle.
Tittel, with the New Jersey Sierra Club, says ratepayers will be on the hook for subsidizing the private, for-profit company’s project. Four former governors have opposed the pipeline through the 1 million-acre preservation. Tittel says it’s Christie allies within the BPU and South Jersey Gas, who stand to benefit. “This is not just about this pipeline. If you can push this pipeline through without a public hearing without a vote by the Pinelands Commission, then you can do anything.”
“When there was a public session there was six hours of debate on both sides, but instead of allowing the public to have a vote and the Pinelands Commission, the Christie appointees and his administration are trying to ram this through,” O’Malley continued.
When reached by email today, a representative for South Jersey Gas wouldn’t comment on potential rate hikes for residents, saying only “we would go through that process in the future, however, we just received the order and need to review in detail before considering next steps and timing.”
Environmental groups also contend this plant will become the biggest source of green house gas in south Jersey.
“The BL England Plant is only operating 60 days a year as a peaking plant, they want to make this a base load plant where it operates 24/7 365 days a year. Which means when it comes to carbon dioxide and other pollutants there will be a 600% increase coming from that site,” Tittle added.
The business industry, labor leaders and even a handful of lawmakers have advocated for the project saying it will create badly needed jobs for the region and create an economic boon. Opponents say that theory misses the mark.
“The Pinelands National Reserve was not created as an economic engine, it was created as one of the first national reserves in the country to protect the 1.1 million acres of an ecological paradise in south Jersey,” said O’Malley.
The Pinelands Commission didn’t return our calls for an interview. Opponents are looking into all possible legal actions, and say they’ve already got an appeal in the works.