EAST BRUNSWICK – Politicians, residents and environmental groups found themselves at odds with unions over an extension of the Transco natural gas pipeline that would run through New Jersey and the Raritan Bay to New York.
Williams, the energy infrastructure company that owns and operates the Transco pipeline, wants to build a 32,000 horsepower compressor station in Franklin and 3.5 miles of new pipeline in Sayreville and Old Bridge. The Northeast Supply Enhancement Project (NESE) would also add 23 miles of pipeline under the Raritan Bay, nearly six miles of which would be in New Jersey waters.
On Monday, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) sought public comment on the company’s pending applications for a coastal wetland permit, flood hazard area individual permit, in-water waterfront development permit and upland waterfront development permit.
Union workers and trade organizations emphasized the economic benefits of the pipeline. The project would support 2,400 construction jobs and generate millions of dollars in economic activity and tax revenue, Williams spokesperson Chris Stockton said in a statement.
But, people in the affected towns say those short-term benefits will come at the cost of long-term problems.
“I know that some people are in favor of it because of union jobs, but those jobs will be short-lived,” said Franklin Mayor Phillip Kramer. “By 2050, we’re hoping to be fossil fuel free, so why build infrastructure you’re not going to need? The NESE project is antithetical to the governor's energy goals,” said Kramer.
Last year, Gov. Phillip Murphy signed bills requiring power companies in the state to generate 35 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025, eventually reaching 50 percent by 2030. The natural gas running through the NESE pipeline would go to customers in New York.
Still, those opposing the project see it as a litmus test for Murphy’s commitment to his administration's renewable energy policy.
“You can go to San Francisco and talk about offshore wind but you’ll do nothing about climate change unless you stop this pipeline and the other pipelines,” said NJ Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel.
Speaking from her experience working with the Murphy administration to seek environmental justice for urban communities dealing with the effects of pollution, Franklin Councilwoman Crystal Pruitt said approving the project ignores the state’s other environmental efforts.
“For an administration to focus on the one hand on environmental justice and remediation and taking care of communities that have been devastated by these short term fixes with long term consequences, it’s really disheartening we even have to have this discussion,” said Pruitt.
Robert Lewandowski, the communications director for the Laborers’ International Union of North America, told the opponents of the pipeline to be wary of dumping natural gas too soon. Even though renewable sources are providing more energy than in the past, shifting too quickly could cause rate increases for consumers and energy shortages.
“We all agree the technological changes and societal needs are leading to a more environmentally and economically sustainable energy system and that’s a good thing,” Lewandowski said. “But that said, the sequencing and timing of change is critically important and must be considered with great caution.”
Old Bridge Councilman David Merwin, who represents the area closest to the pipeline in the township, urged the DEP to deny the permits over concerns that construction would disturb contaminated areas and spread toxic chemicals through the Raritan Bay.
“It goes through two or three different Superfund sites that are already corrected or in the process of being corrected,” said Merwin. “Our recreational boaters can’t even get our creeks and bay dredged so they have safe boating but this company is going to come in and put a pipeline in and destroy our bay bottom.”
Merwin also called attention to the safety risks a pipeline poses nearby populations, citing the Durham Woods explosion in 1994 that saw a natural gas pipeline explode near an apartment complex in Edison.
“The pipeline sits 20 feet away from people’s front door. I’ve lived through Durham Woods, I know the danger of the pipeline if it explodes,” said Merwin. “I just hope the governor and the DEP understand the impact of this thing.”
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