JERSEY CITY AND BEYOND- In a statement dated Dec. 2, Bob Martin, commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), announced that his agency has approved several permits for a controversial natural gas pipeline that could be routed through Jersey City and Bayonne, and near the Hoboken border.
"The DEP today approved several required environmental permits, including waterfront development, flood hazard, and freshwater wetlands permits, for Spectra Energy's proposed natural gas pipeline expansion project through parts of Hudson and Union counties," Martin said in his statement. "The permits were issued only after Spectra Energy complied with DEP's demands for a series of environmental improvements to its original proposal."
The issuance of these permits seems a departure from the DEP's earlier stance on the Spectra project.
If approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the proposed pipeline would include the construction and operation of 19.8 miles of new and replacement 42- and 30-inch-diameter pipeline, six new metering and regulating stations, and other related facility abandonments and modifications in Linden, Jersey City near the Hoboken border, and Bayonne.
The pipeline would then cross the Hudson River into New York to connect the company's existing pipeline infrastructure in the region to Manhattan and Staten Island.
The project must still be approved by FERC which held a series of public hearings on the pipeline in October, including one hearing in Jersey City.
Various city officials, elected leaders, and the administration of Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy have all come out publically against the pipeline project.
On Dec. 7, Healy's office announced that he has asked the Obama administration to block the pipeline project.
Opponents to the project argue that the pipeline would snake dangerously close to residential neighborhoods, schools, areas slated for future development, and important transportation infrastructure sites - including the Holland Tunnel, Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, and PATH train system.
In January, the DEP filed for intervenor status with the federal government. Being an "intervenor" gives an individual, government agency, company, or municipality legal status to sue in federal court should the pipeline be approved. It now appears unlikely that the DEP will join such a lawsuit.
In his Dec. 2 statement, Martin echoes many of Spectra's talking points on the pipeline project.
"This project.will enhance the state's environment, our economy, and is a plus for New Jersey's energy future," Martin states. "It will provide the Garden State with an expanded supply of cleaner and less expensive natural gas that will benefit state residents and businesses, while also providing a more environmentally friendly domestic supply of energy to the state and region. Equally important, the project will provide a natural gas supply to help meets the energy needs of our state, and is consistent with the state's draft energy master plan.In addition to moderating the cost of energy for consumers, the construction of the pipeline will spur the creation of new jobs - an estimated 1,000 direct construction jobs and more than 5,000 other in-state jobs."
While Martin says that Spectra has been "responsive" to DEP's environmental concerns, Mayor Healy has said in the past that the company has not addressed the city's safety concerns.
A spokeswoman for Healy said the mayor was in Trenton and was not immediately available for comment.
FERC must approve the pipeline before it can be built. The federal agency is expected to release its final Environmental Impact Statement in January.
FERC has up to 90 days from this Environmental Impact Statement to issue a final decision on the proposed pipeline. - E. Assata Wright