Approval of gas pipeline expansion sparks environmentalists’ pleas for state action

By: - January 13, 2023 7:01 am

About 20 people rallied outside the Clarkson S. Fisher federal courthouse in Trenton on July 1, 2022, to protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that limited the government’s authority to regulate the greenhouse gas emissions of power plants. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

A federal regulator has approved expansion plans at two New Jersey natural gas compressor stations, prompting renewed demands from environmentalists that the state pause all new fossil fuel projects until permit regulations are updated to reflect the state’s goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Wednesday gave the Williams Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company, known as Transco, the green light to move forward with plans to expand natural gas compressor stations in Branchburg and Old Bridge. It also approved Trancso’s plan to build a new compressor station in West Deptford.

The approval came despite objections from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, which sent the commission a report showing that the state’s existing gas infrastructure will “easily” meet demand through 2030, even when usage peaks in winter.

The upgrades are part of a plan known as the Regional Energy Access Expansion that Transco says is needed to increase access to natural gas supply and the reliability of energy infrastructure in the Northeast.

The three stations are part of a 10,000-mile pipeline system stretching from New York City to south Texas that transports about 15% of the nation’s natural gas.

The company still needs a permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection to proceed with the project, one of seven major fossil fuel projects in New Jersey that environmentalists have called on Gov. Phil Murphy to halt.

Environmentalists say the state can stop the project by withholding that permit.

They warned the Transco project alone will increase greenhouse gas emissions in New Jersey by 16%, reinforce the state’s dependence on dirty energy sources, and further expose communities already overburdened by the impacts of climate change to more air pollution.

They said they will ask for another hearing before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to challenge the approval.

Murphy should do the same, said Tom Gilbert, campaign director of ReThink Energy NJ and co-executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

“The Murphy administration should continue its efforts to protect New Jerseyans from this unneeded, polluting project by challenging FERC’s flawed approval,” Gilbert said in a statement. “It is bad for New Jersey’s clean energy future and ratepayers’ pockets, and would increase pollution in low-income communities and communities of color.”

Kate Delany, a senior organizer with Food & Water Watch, called the commission’s approval “outrageous.”

“But it’s far from a done deal; the Murphy administration can protect New Jersey communities by blocking this awful fossil fuel scheme,” Delany said.

Environmentalists have long bashed the Murphy administration for failing to freeze pipeline development and strengthen air pollution rules.

Bailey Lawrence, a Murphy spokesman, said Friday that the administration “will continue to evaluate its options.”

“The governor continues to stand by the findings of the BPU and Rate Counsel, which were shared with FERC,” Lawrence said. “These findings underscore — in no uncertain terms — that this project is not only unnecessary but detrimental to New Jerseyans.”

Murphy touched on the state’s progress toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions during his State of the State address Tuesday, saying his administration has been “leaning into the clean energy economy to not just power our future, but to fight back against climate change.”

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.