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Group demands that Delaware River agency step into PennEast pipeline project

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Group demands that Delaware River agency step into PennEast pipeline project

An environmental group asked the Delaware River Basin Commission to claim jurisdiction over the PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC natural gas transportation project that would run between the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

In an Aug. 13 letter to the Delaware River Basin Commission, or DRBC, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network called for the commission to provide a formal statement on how it plans to assert its authority over the 1.1-Bcf/d pipeline project.

Delaware Riverkeeper expressed concern over incidents in which the group said the commission "failed to fulfill its legal obligations to protect our water sources from irreparable harm in the past." These included unclear and contradictory communications about jurisdiction that allowed other pipeline projects to move into the construction phase without commission oversight.

"It is time to stop playing games with the health and safety of our water resources, our communities, and the rights of present and future generations to clean and healthy waterways and aquatic resources," Maya Van Rossum, leader of Delaware Riverkeeper, said in the letter. "It is time for the DRBC to go on record and be honest with the people and the applicant about how it intends to interpret and apply its own regulations and jurisdictional authority when it comes to the PennEast pipeline."

Delaware River Basin Commission Director of External Affairs and Communications Peter Eschbach said commissioners have not yet put together a response to the letter, but they might address it in an Aug. 14 meeting or at a caucus in September. The commission is made up of representatives of the four states that surround the Delaware River and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

PennEast declined to comment on the letter. In recent earnings calls, project sponsors pushed back their spending plans. The sponsors, New Jersey Resources Corp., UGI Corp. and South Jersey Industries Inc., said the bulk of spending would occur in 2021, rather than 2020. The project is a joint venture of these utilities, Enbridge Inc. and Southern Co. Gas.

In a related issue, PennEast announced it would again apply for a state-issued water permit with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. In 2017, the state agency had found the PennEast application lacked information and denied a wetlands permit for the project. On Aug. 13, lawmakers, environmental and citizen groups and residents urged the agency to hold PennEast to a strict environmental review and deny permits for the project.

"Nothing is more urgent than the preservation of our environment," U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., said in a statement from the group ReThink Energy NJ. "The failure to demonstrate the necessity of this pipeline is a real threat to that priority."

The project consists of a compressor station and a 120-mile, 36-inch-diameter pipeline running between Luzerne County, Pa., and Mercer County, N.J. (FERC docket CP15-558)