environment News

A chance to walk the climate talk in NJ

Compressor station project creates an opportunity to prove the state, and the federal government, is serious about phasing out fossil fuel infrastructure.

Hey, investing in renewable energy, incentivizing energy companies to transition away from fossil fuels… it’s great. Really. But, the state could tackle reducing emissions in another common sense way, too: It could ban new fossil fuel projects, like the Tennessee Gas compressor station project in the Highlands.

The proposed project includes construction of a new compressor station in West Milford, a new compressor at the existing station in Wantage, and a new station in Pennsylvania. The sites are positioned along a pipeline that sends gas from Pennsylvania to New York; compressor stations are built along lines to pressurize the gas at slow points and keep it moving.

Tennessee Gas first filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) last June, and the agency issued its draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in early July 2021. Public comments are due on the EIS on Aug. 23.

Critics of the plan include a coalition of environmental advocacy groups under the banner of Empower NJ: No Fossil Fuel Projects. Groups include the NJ Sierra Club and local chapters, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Food & Water Watch, Divest NJ and more. Opponents, too, include a select group of municipalities that have passed ordinances formally opposing the project, including Wantage, Vernon and Bloomfield, as well as the Somerset County Commissioners. 

The claim is that, on an acute level, compressor stations can impact public health by virtue of releasing hazardous air pollutants, they could endanger safety by pressurizing a pipeline that is 65 years old in parts (and not fully monitored), and they could wreak environmental havoc by virtue of habitat destruction, water (including drinking water) pollution and soil degradation.

The route of the pipeline; compressor station construction and improvements are pegged for West Milford and Wantage.

But the claim is also, more broadly, that if the state of New Jersey is serious about reaching clean energy goals, it shouldn’t allow the construction or expansion of fossil fuel projects, particularly those that wouldn’t even provide energy for local residents. Too, as the opponents of the project have claimed to FERC, the project’s cumulative impact on climate change needs to be considered before approval is given to it.

Typically, federal regulators only look at the acute, local impacts to the environment from infrastructure projects, but there is growing momentum to force FERC and other regulatory agencies to look at how projects that worsen climate change can come back around to have local impacts. 

Tennessee Gas has requested approval of the project by the end of September in order to begin construction next March.

Though West Milford recently approved the project on a local level, the state of New Jersey can still put its thumb on the project, and of course, federal regulators can step in as well. It’s a good test for two administrations—Gov. Murphy’s and President Biden’s—that have talked a lot about transitioning to a green future, but have left on the table some opportunities to accelerate that move.

For more on the efforts to stop the compressor station project, go to stopthecompressor.org.