Strategic Advice To NJ Pipeline Foes: Build A Public Campaign To Pressure DEP To Deny Clean Water Act 401 Approval
Into the pipeline opposition and media void I wrote about recently, today Jeff Tittel of Sierra Club, NJ Chapter injects a good Letter-to–the Editor, read it all:
But it’s going to take a LOT more than LTE’s. Even more than this great work.
The current strategy of the PennEast pipeline folks I have criticized is fatally flawed and consumed by a focus on FERC, private property rights, and inside technical arguments (see the most recent diversion, inside baseball, and technical misfire: wrong agency and wrong water issue).
It appears to assume that delay and “regulatory uncertainty” will either drive up the costs or force the corporations to abandon the project – or that delay will buy sufficient time for the next NJ Governor to use State DEP powers to kill the project.
These folks seem to think that it is premature to deploy a CWA 401 WQC strategy because wetlands permits have not been filed with DEP. They seem to assume that they can simply flip a switch and refocus the activists and public debate when those draft permits are issued by the NJ DEP.
As I’ve written numerous times, that is magical thinking and a losing strategy.
Rather, here’s a strategic roadmap:
The Trenton oriented environmental groups and their grassroots community partners should start a statewide campaign focused exclusively on the Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certificate issue and the NJ DEP/Governor.
Such a campaign NOW would seize the initiative, correctly frame the issue, and supplant the diversions from the “RETHINK Energy NJ” PennEast campaign.
1) pressure the Christie crowd and keep them honest;
2) inform the public and build effectively focused public support;
3) lay the groundwork for the next election cycle and political endorsements;
4) generate the expectations for the next DEP Transition Report for the next Governor and DEP;
5) provide the technical basis and grassroots support for public participation in DEP wetlands permits (the DEP’s 401 WQ certificate mechanisms) when they are issued.
As I’ve written, this would involve a technical component and a citizens organizing component.
The Technical component would be based on an inventory of pipeline stream crossings and wetlands impacts and a regulatory strategy that demanded site specific and stream specific water quality studies required to:
a) demonstrate compliance with the anti-degradation policies in State DEP Surface Water Quality Standards – demonstrate “existing water quality” (EWQ) – physical, chemical and biological characteristics – by at least 4 quarters of data and water quality/runoff models to show impacts on EWQ;
b) water quality studies that demonstrated compliance with the numeric and narrative criteria and existing use policies of the State Water Quality Standards, again based on 4 quarters of comprehensive representative data.
The Regulatory component would be based on the DEP’s SWQS and freshwater wetlands permit regulations, the EPA Section 401 Manual and EPA SWQS regulation and Guidance, and the case law from successful prior State 401 denials.
The citizen organizing component would include “A Citizens Guide to Using The Clean Water Act to Block Pipelines” (an EPA Section 401 WQC Manual and EPA federal SWQS Guidance Document are already written and could be easily revised to fit NJ’s regulatory scheme).
The Citizens activists piece would also include fact sheets, LTE’s, media framing and talking points, events, and political targets.
This is what all the deep pocketed Foundation funded groups should have been spending their money and activist focus on from day one.
Such a strategy would have collateral benefits by forcing the hand of the RETHINK Energy NJ and Dodge and Wm. Penn Foundation funded weenies and other moderates or NIMBY’s who merely seek to re-route the pipeline from their own backyards or harvest mitigation deals, and keep them from selling out.