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By The Time They File for State Permits, It’s TOO LATE!

Do pipeline opponents really think corporations or governments are going to give them a heads up?

Opponents focus on local governments while ignoring State permits

[Update below – reply from CAPP]

For months now, I have been writing about and talking to PennEast pipeline opponents, urging them to get to work NOW, BEFORE PennEast submits permit applications to the NJ DEP.

The reasons for that are twofold:

First, by acting right now, opponents can get out in front and define the overall expectations, the applicable regulatory requirements, a set of technical issues, methodologies, and requirements they think the pipeline must address.

This is especially critical in these pipeline reviews, because environmentalists must force DEP to conduct a more thorough review and enforce water quality standards in land use programs, something that DEP has not done in the past.

Getting active now also generates technical documents and information that is very useful and that can drive informed public criticism and fuel the public campaigns to target pressure on DEP. Keep those OPRA’s going!

There are no secret regulatory kill pills – don’t think Pilgrim’s lawyers don’t know all the angles and that you’ll surprise them at the 12th hour. No way.

Secondly, the public portion of the permit process is a total sham.

By the time a draft permit is “public noticed” and distributed for public review and comment, the deal is done.

The public comment and public hearing process on a draft permit is a sham – a dog and pony show.

Once DEP issues a draft permit, they are pretty much locked in – only minor changes can be made at the margins – if only to save DEP’s face. Like any bureaucracy, they are loath to admit error and listen to the public. There are also legal issues involved regarding how far DEP can go with respect to making changes in response to public comment before having to withdraw the draft permit and start all over.

Besides, at that point, you are stuck with a final permit and pipeline – not a denial.

The Pre-Appplcation Process is Key

In fact, the overall framework, the outcome expectations (YES, MAYBE, or NO), and the applicable regulatory requirements and technical issues are all decided during the pre-application phase!!

DEP holds private meetings with a permit applicant called “pre-application meetings”. The public is excluded from these critical meetings.

DEP has tipped their hand about all that pre-application meeting stuff in the FERC review process, where meetings between DEP and PE on DEP permit issues are revealed.

I thought I made this pre-application abuse clear during the Pinelands pipeline debate.  

In a post mortem praising activist, I wrote:

VI)  Improving the decision making process 

There were several problems revealed during this debate – here are some of the key flaws that must be fixed:

1) the pre-application and review process suggests agency capture – far more transparency and public participation are required for major projects;

2) the Commission relied far too heavily on information submitted by the applicant and lacked independent science and technical review

[NJ Natural Gas also abused the Pinelands pre-application process.]

The South Jersey Gas pipeline project began pre-application meetings around April 2012 and had been before the Pinelands Commission staff for 15 MONTHS before any public criticism was mounted in June/July 2013.

This is exactly the abuse I’ve been trying very hard to avoid with the PennEast pipeline.

So, my head exploded just exploded when I read this, from the Pilgrim pipeline coalition:


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Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings LLC announced on November 18 that they had filed for permits with New York officials to move forward with building the Pilgrim Pipeline, an environmentally destructive project between Albany, NY and Linden, NJ.  Less prominent was the fact that they filed documents with the NY Thruway Authority and the Department of Environmental Protection in August.  What have they been hiding for 3 months?  (You can see their filing documents here.)

Did the CAPP folks really think Pilgrim corporate people or DEC were going to give them a heads up?

Tell them: hey guys, we’re going to submit our permits, so you can begin your public campaign attacking them now!

I realize that these regulatory issues are complex – but ENGO’s have professional staff, don’t they?

They surely have learned nothing and continue to make big mistakes.

It is getting very hard to take.

[Update – CAPP webmaster Joe Testa just sent me this email because he was unable to comment on the post. I share it and my reply for readers. Joe wrote:

I am sorry that your head has unnecessarily exploded when you read about CAPP’s response to the Pilgrim Pipeline filing in New York.

In brief: duh, no, the CAPP folks were not expecting a heads up from Pilgrim or DEC before starting a public campaign attacking them.  In case you hadn’t been watching …CAPP activists have been actually been working on a public campaign and been busy engaging local public officials to join in the long battle against the pipeline.  The 59 towns along the pipeline route (and nearby) did not spontaneously, independently decide over the past year or so that the pipeline would be a bad thing … they were pushed and prodded by CAPP actiivsts, who have privately worked with local officials and engaged in public demonstrations of opposition.

This bit about the ‘tell us 3 months later’ is just the last chapter of the saga.  For you to imply that CAPP has been waiting in Sleepy Hollow, waiting for the good folks at DEC & Pilgrim to wake us out of hibernation, is just flat-out wrong.

Joe Testa
CAPP Webmaster

Gee, I wonder why CAPP’s own post complained – in the headline – about learning of the permit submission 3 months after it occurred. That kind of proves my point, no? i.e. that they are not involved in the NY DEC pre-application process.

My reply:

That’s great Joe – but you’ve confirmed my criticism.

I’ve been very critical of the activists’ focus on local bullshit while they ignore they only state regulatory power that can kill the pipeline.

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