Critics of the proposed Southern Reliability gas pipeline argue that recent changes to the permitting process undermine clean water regulations and amount to a green light for the project to move forward.
On September 16, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) determined that, based on the recently modified Flood Hazard rules. no formal authorization for the proposed New Jersey Natural Gas Southern Reliability Link Pipeline would be required. Under the Clean Water Act rules, pipeline companies are required to seek a 401 Water Quality Certificate (WQC). The Flood Hazard Individual Permit, along with the CAFRA Permit and the Freshwater Wetlands Permit, satisfies the requirement for the Clean Water Act 401WQC.
The state DEP had been reviewing NJNG’s flood hazard individual permit application for over a year. On Feb. 19, 2015 the company met with the DEP to discuss permit requirements, which triggered requirements for a Freshwater Wetlands permit, a CAFRA permit, and a Flood Hazard Individual permit.
The department was scheduled to hear public comments on the company’s Flood Hazard Application in early September. But on August 29, the company withdrew its “Individual Permit” application, and submitted a new application on September 12 for a “Permit By Rule” determination, which the department granted four day later.
An individual permit would have required an opportunity for public comment. By using the "Permit by Rule," NJNG has evaded the public hearing process.
The new “Permit By Rule” determination was a result of the recent NJDEP Flood Hazard Rule changes. Agnes Marsala, president of People Over Pipelines, stated, “This decision was the first instance when the DEP used the newly adopted Flood Hazard Rules. These rules were allowed to advance only because Senate President Sweeney failed to post and vote on SCR66, a bill that would have invalidated the weakened flood hazard rules.”
The change represents a stark shift away from protecting New Jersey’s water. Under these new rules, the DEP has determined that companies using horizontal directional drilling methods would be eligible for the more lenient "permit by rule" standard, due to their analysis that Horizontal Directional drilling does not disturb the stream in any way. New Jersey Natural Gas will conduct horizontal directional drilling to cross under 43 streams that are along the Southern Reliability Link pipeline route.
“These new rules amount to a green light for pipelines,” said Lena Smith, regional organizer for Food & Water Watch. “The numerous pipelines proposed for the state will transport dangerous fracking fuels into New Jersey, threatening the quality of our drinking water for future generations. The rubber stamping of dangerous infrastructure must be stopped. New Jersey does not need any new pipelines, we need a quick transition to clean energy."
“The DEP continues its rapid descent towards total industry capture that began with Christie’s appointment of fossil fuel magnate Bob Martin as commissioner,” said Marsala. “Despite the support of a vast majority of New Jersey voters, the Christie Administration ignores the need to invest in clean energy jobs and infrastructure, giving dirty fossil fuel purveyors carte blanche to turn the Garden State into the Pipeline State."
Hearings are scheduled for the compressor station freshwater wetlands permit on Oct. 13 and 17, and for the pipeline CAFRA permit and freshwater wetlands permit on Oct. 19 and 20. "We urge everyone to attend at least one of each of the upcoming public hearings at the Bordentown Regional High School at 4:30pm and speak out against this senseless project,” stated Marsala.