Pinelands Commission denies natural gas pipeline to BL England

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UPPER TOWNSHIP - A proposal to build a natural gas pipeline through the Pinelands to the BL England power plant in Beesleys Point was effectively denied Friday after the New Jersey Pinelands Commission voted 7-7 on a Memorandum of Agreement to allow the project to move forward.

The tie vote means the proposal is dead in the water, according to Pinelands Commission members.

The future of the BL England power plant is now up in the air. The plant was required by an Administrative Consent Order with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to shut down one coal burner. It planned to repower a second coal burner an oil burning unit with natural gas as part of a $400 million conversion plan.

South Jersey Gas had proposed the $90 million as part of a conversion to natural gas at BL England. The company said it would increase electrical and natural gas reliability in South Jersey.

But 15 miles of the pipeline would have passed through protected Pinelands areas, meaning it needed approval from the Pinelands Commission.

The commission was considering a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the state BPU (Board of Public Utilities) to allow construction. As part of the MOA, South Jersey Gas would pay the Pinelands Commission $8 million. The money would have been used for education and land acquisition, according to a draft of the agreement.

Opponents called the agreement a payment, and accused Pinelands Commission members of prostituting their mandate.

One commissioner, Edward Lloyd, a professor of environmental law at Columbia Law School, was asked to recuse himself from the proceedings by a deputy attorney general. Lloyd had raised concerns about the MOA at a Dec. 4 meeting, urging the commission to instead require a waiver of strict compliance from South Jersey Gas. Lloyd said he was asked to recuse himself two days later by a deputy attorney general because of a letter from the Eastern Environmental Law Center requesting an additional public hearing on the MOA. Lloyd is president of the group but said he did not know about the letter until the commission received it.

In a letter to commission members Friday, he said the state ethics commission denies ever acting on his situation.

“I should note that at no time since this matter was first raised has the State Ethics Commission contacted me in writing, by email, by telephone, or in any other manner,” he wrote. “I should also reiterate that I wrote to the State Ethics Commission on Dec. 12 (after I had been informed of their “order”) and asked for a review of this matter under the pertinent state regulations. I have not received any response to my request to date.”

Upper Township and Cape May County officials supported the project. Local officials said converting to natural gas would reduce emissions. The project would also create jobs, they said.

The BL England plant brings more than $6 million to Upper Township coffers every year through Energy Receipts Taxes.

Environmentalists opposed the project because they said it would damage the Pinelands and promote “fracking” for natural gas. “Fracking” uses chemicals pumped underground to release natural gas, and opponents of the process say it pollutes the environment.

 


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