PennEast pipeline proposal arrives at the Delaware River Basin Commission

 

The PennEast Pipeline proposal has landed at the Delaware River Basin Commission, one of the many regulatory bodies whose approval is needed before the 114-mile natural-gas pipeline project can go forward.

Steve Tambini, executive director of the DRBC, said the commission will examine the proposal's effects "not just on the Delaware, but on every stream in the watershed that the pipeline crosses."

The DRBC rarely turns down a proposal, but the process it follows can radically change a project— sometimes the proposal becomes so different that a different proposal is submitted. Sometimes the project is abandoned by the sponsor.

This project has already stirred significant opposition from residents in its path and environmentalists. Most of that ire has so far been directed at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has to approve pipelines that cross state lines as this one will. Its planned path runs from Luzerne County in northeast Pennsylvania to Hopewell Valley in Mercer County, New Jersey. Some of that opposition has even accused FERC of being a rubber stamp for the power companies.

At the last DRBC meeting on FEB. 10 in Washington Crossing, Pa., some foreshadowing of that passion was demonstrated by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network which celebrated the upcoming Valentine's Day by presenting the commission with Valentine's Day cards and bouquets during the open public comment period.

Maya van Rosuum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, suggested that the DRBC show its love for the river and the watershed by holding seven independent hearings on the project at various sites along its path, in order to give a "full and fair opportunity for people to be heard."

What was a discussion about the pipeline turned into a discussion about the bouquets. Tambini thanked the people at the hearing and the many people who have already commented to the DRBC about the pipeline, but neither he nor any of the commissioners could accept the bouquets. There were repeated romantic Valentine-related suggestions that the DRBC not be led astray by FERC, but remain true to the Delaware River and its watershed. The fate of the bouquets is unknown, though Tambini suggested the commenters could deliver them to a local assisted-living residence.

Tambini said that the commissioners would have to decide on the public hearing schedule, whether it's one or more than one, and it will be announced. Before that happens, the DRBC staff work on the proposal to see how it aligns with the rules and regulations that the DRBC upholds. That can involve conversation with the project sponsors, and changes to the proposal. The proposal, once this work has been done, becomes a docket on the DRBC's schedule.

Then, the next step is one or more than one public hearing. The public is alerted to when the docket will appear before the commissioners through the DRBC website and interested parties can sign up for notification.

This project, due to its complexity, will likely not be appearing on the DRBC docket list for several months.

On the FERC front, the first stage is drawing to a close. FERC spokesperson Tamara Young-Allen said Thursday that FERC staff are developing the draft Environmental Impact Statement.

When that is completed, there will be further opportunity for public comment in a variety of ways, in person at what FERC calls comment meetings, or via snail mail or via FERC's website. She said that interested parties can sign up for notification when the draft EIS is ready as well as information about how to comment on it.

Then, the final EIS is created, and the FERC commissioners will vote on it. Young-Allen noted that at present there are only four commissioners instead of the full complement of five. It's up to President Barack Obama to name a new commissioner and then the Senate votes on it.

Tambini recognized that the pipeline will likely be a hot topic for many months, and noted that the DRBC's process is open and creates space for public input, and welcomed people to comment. He also suggested that people who are interested familiarize themselves with the rules for all of the DRBC's public meetings and hearings to prevent misunderstandings in the heat of the moment. Those rules are available on the DRBC website.

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