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PennEast gets 2-year extension

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted a two-year extension for the PennEast Pipeline Co. to get its proposed natural gas pipeline in service.

When the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued the PennEast Pipeline Co. its certificate of public convenience and necessity in 2018, PennEast was required to have the pipeline completed and in service by Jan. 19, 2020. FERC’s opinion issued Thursday, however, extends that date to Jan. 19, 2022.

“Extending the deadline to construct the PennEast project and place it into service within four years of the date of the certificate order will not undermine the Commission’s findings that the project is required by the public convenience and necessity and is an environmentally acceptable action,” FERC said in its opinion. “The Commission has frequently authorized infrastructure projects with initial deadlines of four, five or six years without expressing concerns about the certificate order’s economic or environmental findings becoming stale.”

FERC received comments in opposition to PennEast’s request from numerous individuals and landowners, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, the Sourland Conservancy, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, the Lower Delaware Wild and Scenic River Management Council, Sierra Club — New Jersey Chapter, and the Washington Crossing Audubon Society.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit dealt a major blow to the pipeline in 2019 when it rejected a request for a rehearing on the use of eminent domain to acquire properties in New Jersey.

In September, the court ruled that PennEast can’t use eminent domain to acquire 42 properties that are owned by the state and preserved for farmland or open space.

The judges wrote that while the federal Natural Gas Act allows private gas companies to exercise the federal government’s power to take property by eminent domain, that doesn’t extend to state-owned properties.

The properties fall under the 11th Amendment, which protects states from lawsuits by private parties in federal court, the panel concluded.

PennEast has since asked the Supreme Court of the United States to review the decision.

“That the Third Circuit’s opinion may impede PennEast’s efforts to exercise eminent domain over certain parcels of land along the project’s route does not affect our finding that it has demonstrated good cause for granting the requested extension, nor impact our finding that the project remains required by the public convenience and necessity,” FERC’s opinion states.

“In the event PennEast proposes modifications to the certificate route, the environmental impacts of PennEast’s proposed modifications will be assessed at that time, in the appropriate proceeding.”

FERC Commissioner Richard Glick offered a dissenting opinion on the time extension. He also dissented on the original decision to grant PennEast it’s certificate of public convenience and necessity.

“The record did not show a need for the pipeline and the Commission erred by finding that the pipeline was required by the public convenience and necessity when many permits and details about the proposed route remained unanswered,” Glick wrote.

“Those issues, as well as a host of others, are now being litigated in the federal courts. PennEast’s inability to timely complete the pipeline seems to be due in significant part to the number of issues that were unresolved when the Commission granted the certificate.”

After asking for the certificate, PennEast announced a plan to split the project into two phases.

Phase one includes 68 miles of pipe and the portion running through Carbon and Monroe counties are entirely within Pennsylvania and ready to deliver natural gas by November 2021.

The second phase would include the remaining route in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, with a targeted completion of 2023.

“In the years since the initial announcement of the project, demand for natural gas has continued to grow, yet the benefits of new job creation, economic development, air quality and lower energy bills have been denied to all customers by shortsighted political interests,” said Anthony Cox, chair of the PennEast Pipeline Company Board of Managers.

“Building the project in phases allows PennEast to meet the clear public need in the short term in Pennsylvania, and in the long term in New Jersey by affording sufficient time for permit and legal issues to be resolved.”

Under the phased approach, PennEast would have three delivery points in Pennsylvania: UGI Utilities Inc. (to serve the Blue Mountain Ski Resort) and new interconnections with Columbia Gas and Adelphia Gateway.

Linda Christman, president of Save Carbon County, a group opposed to the pipeline said Friday. “Because there are at least two lawsuits before the federal courts, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should have denied the two-year extension or issued a stay on new construction until the courts have rendered decisions.Instead, the commission, once again,gave the industry they are supposed to regulate exactly what they wanted at the expense of justice for homeowners.Ultimately, it will make no difference. I am confident that this pipeline will never be built.”

She added, “Pennsylvanians will gain no benefit from this pipeline, but Pennsylvanians will bear the brunt of this destructive pipeline—if it is built. Save Carbon County and other concerned citizens’ groups will continue the fight against PennEast no matter what name they give it.”

PennEast wants to complete the pipeline in two phases. Phase 1 would go through Carbon County. DAVID W. ROWE/TIMES NEWS GRAPHIC