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Hundreds Turn Out To Oppose NJ Natural Gas Pipeline

Gov. Christie’s Pro-Gas Energy Plan Creates Democratic Crisis


The Greek people just challenged the power of the banks, the oligarchs, and the Neoliberal policy of austerity.

Despite incredible pressure, which included closing the banks, scarcities of basic needs like medicines, and a massive propaganda campaign run by the Oligarchs who own and control the Greek press, they voted by an overwhelming majority to reject the austerity policy dictated by the European banks.

Austerity is driving depression levels of unemployment; cuts to salaries, pensions, and public services; dismantling of democratically enacted laws and regulations; and privatization of public assets (this included a requirement that the bankers approve any legislation even considered by Parliament BEFORE it was even publicly debate, thus extinguishing Greek sovereignty.)

But just days later, their government, elected on an explicit 40 point anti-austerity platform, capitulated to the banks and agreed to a humiliating set of austerity policies that are even more severe then when the debt relief negotiations began.

They lost – and the painful lesson they learned is that the European Union has no room for democracy: that the needs and desires expressed by people are subordinate to the power of money – that capitalism trumps democracy and the promise of integration into the European Union to advance social justice is a sham.

Similarly, the people of NJ are challenging the power of the energy industry, the BPU, and the pro-fossil fuels policy of Governor Christie’s Energy Master Plan (EMP).

I suspect that they will suffer a similar fate as the Greek people.

But will they learn the lesson now so clearly understood by the Greeks?

Ironically, it may be easier for the Greeks to “Grexit” the Eurozone, than for New Jerseyans to exit the Christie zone.

 Hundreds Oppose Pipeline

In a battle that is escalating across the state as deeply unpopular gas pipelines and other fossil energy projects proliferate, hundreds of people turned out at a Board of Public Utilities (BPU) hearing yesterday in Manchester to oppose a gas pipeline proposed by NJ Natural Gas, parading under the Orwellian name “the Southern Reliability Link”.

For local news coverage of the hearing, see the Burlington County Times story – waiver your ass goodbye:

My family and 140 other families live within 100 feet (of the proposed line). Why are we expendable?” Plumsted resident Jim Kelleher said about the possible impact of a natural gas explosion. “My house will be a crater. My wife and children will be gone.”

The BPU soon must decide whether overwhelming public opposition is trumped by the political power of the gas industry, who are backed by Governor Christie’s Energy Master Plan.

Will NJ BPU emulate the energy industry’s federal puppet FERC and serve the fossil energy industry profits over tremendous public opposition?

Gov. Christie’s EMP Is The Source of the Policy Problem

The Greek people understand exactly what the institutional and policy sources of their problem are: the European banks have been very open in dictating the specific terms of the austerity deal the Greeks must swallow.

But do all the pipeline, oil train, offshore drilling and fracking activists and renewable energy advocates understand that the Christie EMP is the single source of their common problems and thus unites their efforts?

The energy industry is openly justifying their projects on the basis that they are consistent with and promoted by the Christie EMP.

Government regulators, including BPU, are explicitly endorsing that rationale in rubber stamping industry proposals. This is made most obvious in last week’s BPU Order that approved the South Jersey Gas Pinelands pipeline:

The BPU Order went on to state this critical point:

Therefore, one of the State’s energy policy goals is for New Jersey to foster in-state generation of energy. Ibid. B.L. England provides in-state generation of energy. Therefore, this Board supports the repowering of B.L. England to help meet one of the five overarching goals of the 2011 EMP. N.J.S.A 52:27F-15 (the actions of state departments, agencies, and commissions “shall to the maximum extent practicable and feasible conform to the [EMP]”) (@ p.6-7 – emphasis mine)

By the Board’s own admission, they cherry picked just one “overarching” goal from the EMP – and it was related to B.L. England plant, not the SJG pipeline application before the Board –  and ignored other competing goals and policies and tons of science, evidence, technical Reports, conflicting laws and policies, and testimony provided by the public.

But you wouldn’t know anything about any of that by reading the news coverage or listening to the testimony at the public hearings.

It is critical that people understand the source of their problems in order to effectively advocate – at this point in time, they are not properly focused on the common source of the problem and how to effectively challenge or change the policy.

Climate Crisis Demands Rapid Shift in Energy Infrastructure Investments

Th environmental groups have recently gotten much better in emphasizing the climate crisis as the primary reason why we must stop expansion and investments in fossil fuel based infrastructure.

But they need to improve their explanations of how fossil investments both accelerate climate catastrophe and erect huge barriers to the necessary rapid transition to renewable energy.

They also have not risen to the challenge of what a policy of “leave it in the ground” would really look like nor have they begun to make clear policy demands regarding how such a policy would apply in NJ, where there are no fossil fuels to extract. (HINT: “moratorium“)

Accordingly, none of these issues are reported in the news and play little or no part of the organizing of the various oppositions to the many fossil projects

We can and must do much better. The upcoming August round of Christie EMP public hearings will be a crucial test.

Of course, if one shares my belief that the system is completely broken and no longer able to respond to traditional rational science based public policy arguments, then direct non-violent action and civil disobedience tactics must be engaged on a wide scale to make any difference in the status quo.

Claims of Pipeline Supporters Are Not Credible – What Is the Real Need for all that gas?

A 30 inch high pressure (722 psi) pipeline can deliver a LOT of gas.

Where is all that gas going to go?

NJ Natural Gas claims that the pipeline is needed to provide “resilience” in the event of a Sandy like emergency. Amazingly, Mayor Mancini, representing Mayors on Long Beach Island echoed that claim.

That claim was effectively ridiculed by John Weber of Surfrider, who drew laughs and applause from the crowd as he noted that gas pipelines on LBI were washed out and shut off due to the fires they caused. High pressure gas lines would have made the problem far worse. Pipelines are the cause of the problem, not the solution.

The NJ Energy Industry Coalition supported the pipeline, again based on Sandy and the need for reliability and “resilience”.

That claim was ridiculed by Doug O’Malley of Environment NJ, who found it “galling” for the fossil fuel industry to try  to justify more fossil infrastructure based on a climate drive extreme weather event like Sandy.

Another group of business representatives supported the pipeline by shamelessly and very cynically playing the military patriotism card: the need to provide gas to Joint Base (McGuire & Dix). There is no evidence that Joint Base needs more gas capacity. No one openly challenged that claim, probably due to the fear of appearing to be “anti-military”. Time restrictions on my testimony prevented me from engaging this issue – I did that at a sewer line hearing in Plumsted recently and got some catcalls from the crowd for it.

NJ Natural Gas claimed that the pipeline is not intended to serve new growth.

That claim was challenged by Jacyln Rhoades of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, who cited remarks to investors by NJ Natural Gas CEO.

Is A New Gas Plant at Oyster Creek The Endgame?

The testimony of retired energy utility engineer George Hay let the cat out of the bag and revealed what could be the real endgame.

Hay casually remarked that they next pipeline hearing may be to connect to a new gas plant at the retiring Oyster Creek nuclear power plant. As George made that comment, I watched BPU Commissioner Solomon’s face light up and smile as she nodded her head and just about winked to a fellow BPU official in the front row.

George told me afterward that gas turbine’s just happen to need high pressure 750 psi gas lines like the one NJ Natural Gas is proposing.

Assemblyman Dancer Tap Dances

Our Plumsted pro-sewer friend, Assemblyman Dancer spoke. He used the opportunity to self promote and discuss his package of bills designed to: mandate current BPU 100 foot buffer (A4503); require consideration of co-location in existing ROW (A4455) and to require BPU to consider public comment at Board meetings and to hold local public hearings (A4501)

Beware, because his so called “legislative reforms” are a band-aid – they do not change any substantive requirements that could empower or force BPU to deny gas industry requests. Instead, they actually are part of an effort to manipulate and appear responsive to critics.

They are not intended to and could not stop any gas pipeline.

NJ History Suggests A Path Forward

I came to NJ DEP in 1985.

At that time, the Kean Administration had a $3 billion plan to build 21 garbage incinerators in NJ, one in each county.

That plan was wildly unpopular and thousands of people were turning out at public hearings to oppose incinerators, just like they are doing with various fossil infrastructure projects now.

All those anti-incineration people were organized into a formidable opposition that ultimately pressured the next Governor, Jim Florio, to declare a moratorium on any more incinerators and issue a Executive Order #8 that led to the cancellation of 12 garbage incinerators and a radical new solid waste policy and plan that set the highest recycling rate in the world at the time. [Full disclosure: I did a lot of work on these issues when I was with DEP.]

I see a similar pattern shaping up – but now the energy industry is FAR more powerful than the incinerator industry and environmental groups seem far less willing or capable to organize and make political demands.

Similarly, now the political process and government are far more corrupt and far less willing or capable of responding to democratic expressions of the will of the people.

There used to be a government for the corporate interests to “capture” – now those same forces literally own government. I got a charge from the crowd by calling it “phagocytosis”.

And the climate crisis can’t wait for those traditional political strategies to work, even if they could.

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