We had our first meeting of West Amwell DTCAP on Thursday, May 21st at the West Amwell firehouse in Mt. Airy. The meeting was well attended and we had lots of great questions. In fact there were so many questions that the meeting ran way over time. We originally were scheduled for 7:30 to 8:30 but we didn’t wrap up until almost 10pm. Thanks for everyone who made it. The next meeting will be tentatively set for next week, I’ll send out details once they’re available.
We started with basic introductions. I’ve been a software developer in the financial services field for the past 27 years, and my wife and I moved here to West Amwell from NYC about 3 years ago. Over a number of months I’ve been researching the pipeline, and reached a critical mass in February when I launched my blog http://thecostofthepipeline.com
It’s done tremendously well and I’ve gotten involved with many organizations fighting the pipeline, including informal discussions with the township pipeline committee chair Cathy Urbankski.
By May it became clear that while the pipeline committee and township has done an outstanding job to date, there was more that could be done. The West Amwell Citizens Against the Pipeline group was formed to help supplement our pipeline committee, and to explore avenues where the township does not think it’s appropriate for them to be involved in.
PennEast has demonstrated that it’s willing to fight dirty to get this pipeline built. A case in point is the pipeline re-routing that PennEast released in January. They released a drastically changed pipeline route mere days before the scoping meetings were to begin, invalidating hundreds of hours of work done by the township to evaluate the pipeline. It left us and other townships along the route at a severe disadvantage when it came time to speak at the scoping meetings held in the region. It’s one example of many where we all need to join together and fight against PennEast as a group.
I gave an update on where we are within the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)’s process. We are currently in what’s called the “pre-filing” period. Pre-filing is a formal part of the process but is not really binding. It’s sort of a mock-up of the real filing period so PennEast can get a feel for all the issues. To a degree this makes citizens and towns do the work that the pipeline company really should do, but this is how FERC has set it up.
The formal “scoping meetings” where you can address the FERC and PennEast in person are now over, and the formal scoping comment period is closed.
HOWEVER – FERC has indicated that they will continue to take and process scoping comments. It is vital that people keep sending their comments in on any relevant issues.
The pre-filing stage will be completed in early summer. Once that happens PennEast will do a formal filing with FERC, and the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) period will begin. At this point the process is really starting all over again from our perspective. One difference is that during the pre-filing period anyone can comment. Once the official application process starts you must register as an Intervenor to make comments or objections. At that point it is a much more formal process being followed.
Delaware Township Citizens Against the Pipeline
We asked the Delaware Township CAP people to come and talk to us about why they formed their organization and what they’ve done to date.
Charles described the extensive outreach that DTCAP has done to date. They’ve set up booth at local events such as the Shad Festival in Lambertville and a recent bike race out of Stockton, and plan on attending the Huterdon County Day and the Hunterdon County 4H fair. Response from the public has been fabulous so far.
As part of the booths they showed us their “traveling road show”, this consists of a great deal of information about the pipeline and possible issues we’re facing with it. There’s material on the arsenic threat to our drinking water, safety issues, white papers attacking PennEast’s justification, bumper stickers, signs, and material individuals can send in to our legislators.
He pointed out mailers that they’ve been stressing lately about the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC). The DRBC has been named as an agency that will be reviewing the pipeline. However pro-pipeline people have been trying tie DBRC comment periods in with other comment periods. As it is individuals only have 3 minutes to submit their verbal comments, if we allow them to combine them you would effectively only have 1 1/2 minutes to speak to each body.
He also stressed the importance of getting FERC comments in. Delaware Township has organized into technical groups with each group sending in FERC comments in their area of expertise – water, geology, history, finance, etc. This work is done in conjunction with their pipeline committee so that you have both individual comments going into FERC but also official township communications for vital issues they want to highlight. I commented that we would like to do the same here, and to some degree we already are via thecostofthepipeline.com. This would just be expanding that to a larger scale.
We also talked about the importance of individuals voicing their knowledge and opinion regardless of their levels of expertise in any specific area. The FERC and PennEast needs to hear from everyone who is impacted by this project. And we mean everyone – whether you’re a farmer or a lawyer, a retiree or scientist, a welder or a stay at home parent, it doesn’t matter. We need you all to send your comments in.
DTCAP’s structure and goals was discussed as well. They are organized as a non-profit 503(c)(4) organization. This means they are no taxable by the IRS, but donations to them are not tax deductible. They have raised around $18,000 to date. Some of this is used as outreach material, but a great deal of it will be used for hiring expert witnesses to rebut information PennEast has been dishing out. This is necessary because few if any of the municipalities along the route have been willing to finance hiring of such experts directly.
We will be doing the same with WACAP, we’re in the process of forming it into a 503(c) organization and will be reaching out for donations to help cover outreach costs, but also vitally to provide expert witnesses and also possibly legal help.
Recent wins in our favor
While much of the pipeline information serves as a gloomy subject, there are some positive things going on and we shared some of the “wins” we’ve been having lately against PennEast.
First up, press coverage. While the winter was a depressing litany of the media regurgitating PennEast press releases touting all sorts of illusory benefits of the pipeline, the Spring was entirely different. Numerous stories came out about the opposition against the pipeline and how both residents and local governments have become disgusted with PennEast’s way of doing business. PennEast has been thrown on the defensive and they are reacting to us for a change.
Next we discussed the FERC a bit. They are acknowledging the level of opposition against pipelines in general, and this one in particular. A presentation from a FERC commission last fall showed that FERC is aware that “stakeholders and non-governmental organizations” (e.g. citizen’s groups) are becoming a major threat to expansion to pipeline infrastructure, and that they may materially impact such plans. This past winter the FERC commission was quoted as saying “we have a problem here” when describing the unprecedented level of protests they have seen against both how FERC fails to uphold their regulatory duties and rubber stamp projects, and how pipeline companies take advantage of this. It’s gotten bad enough that there have been marches on Washington against the FERC. A little-known obscure federal agency like the FERC is now becoming the center of a firestorm of criticism and harsh analysis.
In response to this level of scrutiny FERC appears to be pushing back much harder on PennEast then they have done traditionally with past applicants. FERC has told PennEast that too many of their responses are boilerplate and they must substantially review, analyze, and present their findings on a host of issues including:
- Arsenic contamination concerns
- Abandoned coal mines in PA
- Impacts to farmlands and preserved land, and how PennEast is supposed to be minimizing this
- Lack of transparency from PennEast to stakeholders
- Requirements for enhanced outreach from PennEast
- Requirement that PennEast must consult with other local, state, and federal agencies
- A flat out statement that PennEast’s alternative’s analysis was pro-forma and wholly inadequate, and they must turn in a serious alternative’s analysis if they want real consideration
We also discussed the fact that FERC has a new chairman, Norman Bay. He started on April 15th. And while historically FERC commissioners have been leaders and CEOs of energy companies, Mr. Bay has not. He’s actually a lawyer with a prosecutorial background, and prior to being chairman he headed FERC’s enforcement arm. Having a prosecutor and a person who’s career has been spent tracking down companies that break laws and regulations at the head of the FERC has to be seen as a positive sign for those opposed to more pipeline infrastructure being built in our region.
Finally we discussed the FERC State of the Markets reports, comparing the 2013/2014 “polar vortex” winter report with the 2014/2015 one. The Polar Vortex winter was a bad one and energy markets did very poorly. So poorly that PennEast based their “we could have saved the region $890 million if we had existed” research report on that time period. Pipeline capacity was strained, and prices spiked as high as $120, when they are normally in the $4-$8 range.
Much of PennEast’s justification for building the pipeline comes from the market conditions of that winter.
However, the 2014/2015 state of the markets report was entirely different. A number of actions were taken after the polar vortex winter to try to make sure they didn’t happen again. More pipelines came online for the first time in 2014, adding 2.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas capacity per day to the region. In addition FERC forced market players to work out more efficient wants to communicating who needed gas the most at peak periods and optimizing routing strategies.
The results were astounding. FERC stated that in the winter just past energy infrastructure in the north east did “remarkably well”. Prices are low, volatility was low, and the price spike during high usage went from $120 a year before down to just $8 this year.
This most recent report is a terrible blow to PennEast’s purpose and need justification they need to get the right to invoke eminent domain. It’s literally been proven by the government that we don’t need any of their gas here in NJ. What gas they will be bringing here will mostly continue on to other pipelines in the national pipeline network, ultimately to be turned into liquid natural gas (LNG) and exported overseas where gas prices are 4x higher than they are here.
Call for volunteers
We discussed the need for volunteers at all levels to get WACAP off the ground. We need people to join our Board of Trustees to help make decisions on how we’ll spend donation money (in particular what experts we should be hiring). We need people to man booths for events like Hunterdon Day and the 4H fair at the end of the summer. We need everyone to be sending in scoping comments to the FERC, and we’ll send out information on how to do that.
We’ll get your comments to the FERC no matter what it takes. We’ll get you instructions on how to do it yourself on the FERC site. If you want an easier route the Delaware River Keeper also has a web page that let’s you send in comments more easily. Finally, if you want you can email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get them posted for you. All we need for that is your name and address and the body of your comments, and we’ll do the rest.2
Discussion of non-profit status
We talked about our non-profit status briefly, whether we would go for 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4). The (3) designation is harder to get and takes longer, but once you get all donations to the organization are tax deductible. The (4) designation is easier, and allows the group to do political lobbying, but their donations are not tax deductible. We’re still mulling through this.
How we can make a difference
A number of things were listed in how we as a group can help fight the pipeline and supplement the work of the Township Pipeline Committee. These include:
- Responding to issues on FERC docket
- Helping out affected landowners
- Community events and education
- Securing legal aid and expert testimony
- Research: environmental, historical, cultural, preservation, water quality, etc.
- Working with other groups
Contrasts with the Township Pipeline Committee
- Pipeline committee’s work to date has been outstanding
- Pipeline committee needs approval from Township Committee for material actions
- We’re an independent group
- Work closely with pipeline committee when possible
- NOT an official township agency.
- More agile/more options
- We may fund things Township does not wish to
Fund raising opportunities
We briefly mentioned fund raising opportunities but nothing was offered at this time. We’ll be revising this in June.
The longest section was the pipeline Q&A section. A number of topics were covered including:
- Terrorism potential against pipelines
- Pipeline safety
- JCP&L easement, protesting to JCP&L
- Baldpate “cut” and cuts in most of West Amwell will be widened to 250′ during construction
- Discussion of legality of exporting natural gas from the U.S.
- Telling FERC and PennEast about features of note on their property that should be avoided (an undocumented dam was used as an example)
- Showing diagrams of working right-of-way during construction
- Physical dimensions of the pipeline, ditch depth, etc
- Pipeline committee activities and FERC filings to date
- Preserved land and farms and the pipeline
- Variations in Pipeline Route and the certainty of this one (there isn’t any)
- Questions on Lambertville’s involvement given probity of the pipeline to the Swan Creek Reservoir
- Blasting in bedrock during construction
- Proximity of pipeline to active quarries in Hopewell and Delaware Township
- Impacts on wells and drinking water
- Property value impacts
- Proximity of pipeline to schools and churches, evacuation plans
- Crossing techniques of various features (other pipelines, streams, roads, etc).
- Showing pipeline proximity to township features on a laptop with the route map
Notices will be sent out for when the next meeting will be held, we’re shooting for next week. The basic web site is up along with a Facebook page, notices of that will be sent out as well.