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South Jersey Gas pipeline proposal may be headed back for further review

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South Jersey Gas pipeline proposal may be headed back for further review

The state of New Jersey has asked an appeals court to send a South Jersey Gas Co. proposed pipeline back to the commission that approved it, arguing that the conditions around the project had changed too dramatically for a related court case to continue.

South Jersey Gas had proposed the Cape Atlantic Reliability pipeline to supply a power plant looking to switch to gas fuel, and the project's state approvals — including from the New Jersey Pinelands Commission — were based on the line's intended purpose, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a May 10 motion to remand. But RC Cape May Holdings decided in February not to convert its oil-and-coal-fired B.L. England power plant to gas.

The power plant would have been drawing gas from the proposed pipeline "for a minimum of 350 days per year, or 95% of the time, for twenty years," the attorney general's motion said, adding that the proposal had indicated that the line's secondary purpose of providing redundant gas supply "would only be used, at most, fifteen days per year."

Environmental groups have long objected to the pipeline, which would cross the Pinelands National Reserve, and challenged in court the Pinelands Commission's approval of the line. South Jersey Gas and the litigating environmental groups "disagreed in many respects" over the years, but all parties were on the same page that the main issue at hand revolved around the expected use of the pipeline, the motion said.

"Every brief amongst the parties focused on whether the Pinelands Commission correctly determined that SJG's project, with the primary purpose of providing natural gas to repower the BLE, primarily served only the needs of the Pinelands," according to the motion filed with the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division.

With the power plant no longer expected to need a steady gas supply, the Pinelands Commission in March said that South Jersey Gas' project application was no longer valid, but the commission in April decided to postpone adopting a formal resolution on the pipeline, citing legal advice.

Environmental groups involved in the lawsuit welcomed the attorney general's request to have the project sent back to the commission for further review. "The state is taking action in trying to undo the approvals of the South Jersey Gas pipeline. This is an important step in the right direction to kill this project," Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said in a May 22 statement. "We are party to this litigation and we've been fighting this project for four years. We want the case to be remanded and voted down properly and as quickly as possible."

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South Jersey Gas did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

South Jersey Gas, a subsidiary of South Jersey Industries Inc., proposed the 22-mile, 24-inch-diameter intrastate line to the B.L. England plant, which was supposed to be converted to a 430-MW, gas-fired power plant known as B.L. England CC Plant in New Jersey's Cape May County. The Pinelands Commission has authority over the 1.1 million-acre Pinelands National Reserve through which South Jersey Gas planned to build its gas transmission pipeline. Environmental groups have long argued that in approving the pipeline, the commission violated the Pinelands Protection Act and the comprehensive management plan governing the reserve. The Pinelands Commission had approved the project in February 2017.

South Jersey Industries has maintained that the project is still important for the region, arguing in February that "delaying needed reliability and resiliency investments compromises [South Jersey Gas'] ability to provide uninterrupted service to its customers." At the time, the gas utility said it would explore possible alternatives for a secondary supply to more than 142,000 customers in Atlantic and Cape May counties in New Jersey who are served by a single feed.