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PennEast drops pipeline

A controversial natural gas pipeline project that would have run through Carbon County has been dropped.

The PennEast Pipeline Company sent a statement to media Monday morning announcing the news.

“Although PennEast received a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to construct the proposed pipeline and obtained some required permits, PennEast has not received certain permits, including a water quality certification and other wetlands permits under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act for the New Jersey portion of the project; therefore, the PennEast partners, following extensive evaluation and discussion, recently determined further development of the project no longer is supported,” PennEast spokesperson Patricia Kornick said. “Accordingly, PennEast has ceased all further development of the project.”

PennEast first announced the 116-mile pipeline, proposed to run from Luzerne County to Mercer County, New Jersey, in 2014. Local opposition formed almost immediately, led by the group Save Carbon County and its president, Linda Christman.

“It’s wonderful, absolutely wonderful,” Christman said of Monday’s announcement. “We were prepared to keep fighting them. I think staying with it was the key. The pipeline companies always think they can outlast volunteer groups. But we all stuck with it for seven years. I have a note pasted on my fridge that says never give up, and that has never been more true than today.”

FERC issued PennEast its certificate of public convenience and necessity in 2018.

If built as planned, the pipeline would have run through Towamensing, Lower Towamensing, Kidder and Penn Forest townships in Carbon County, and Eldred Township in Monroe County.

At one time, Blue Mountain Resort in Lower Towamensing Township had been hoping the pipeline would provide access to natural gas it needed for an expansion project including an outdoor water park and a four-star condominium resort hotel.

“We are committed to taking all possible steps to reduce our carbon footprint at Blue Mountain Resort, and will continue to research other renewable energy sources,” Barb Green, Blue Mountain Resort president said.

The sole compressor station was to be located on an undeveloped 74-acre site near Interstate 80 in Kidder Township.

State Rep. Doyle Heffley said he’s disappointed that PennEast is pulling the plug on the project.

“It’s frustrating to see all the activists and groups that tried to shut it down at a time when home heating oil prices are soring and gas prices are soaring,” Heffley said. “As a nation and a state, we need to be focused on ensuring we have the energy to power into the future. This would have been a boom for the economy and our tax base.”

“PennEast’s cancellation of this unneeded, dangerous fracked gas pipeline is a momentous win for the communities that have fought hard for years to defend their property and the environment,” said Joseph Minott, executive director of the Clean Air Council. State Sen. John Yudichak, meanwhile, lamented the loss of jobs that won’t be available because the pipeline has been scrapped.

“Frivolous lawsuits and misguided political policies, like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, have halted the development of the PennEast pipeline project, which could result in the loss of over 12,000 jobs in northeastern Pennsylvania,” Yudichak said. “UGI, and their development partners, along with the Pennsylvania Construction and Building Trade unions have worked diligently to bring this clean burning $1.3 billion natural gas project to eastern Pennsylvania, where they have met every standard placed before them from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to the United States Supreme Court. Still, environmental extremists persist in putting radical ideology in the way good-paying jobs.”

Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry President Gene Barr said the loss of the pipeline is also a loss for ratepayers, the economy and the environment.

“The increased production of natural gas has directly led to substantial reductions in utility bills for businesses and working families in our state and region, as well as historic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and a significant improvement in air quality,” Barr said. “Unfortunately, pipeline constraints due in no small part to misguided political opposition from activists have precluded neighboring states from reaping the benefits of this critical infrastructure development.”

PennEast won a Supreme Court case earlier this summer that allowed it to acquire state-owned property in New Jersey for the pipeline, but a lack of permits in the Garden State ultimately stalled the project.

The project was most recently split in two phases, with the first including 68 miles of pipe and the portion running through Carbon and Monroe counties, entirely within Pennsylvania. That phase of the project was to be completed in 2022, with the New Jersey portion scheduled for completion in 2023.

For pipeline opponents like Christman, PennEast’s decision had been a long time coming.

“I remember when the land agent came to our house, sat down at our kitchen table and pushed the easement across to us,” Christman said “He said, you might as well sign it because this pipeline is going to be built and they’re going to take your land. I wish I could talk to that land agent now.”

Last month, PennEast officials said the company was exploring the dismissal of land acquisition lawsuits against local property owners, and last week a similar action took place in New Jersey.

Maya Van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper and a staunch opponent of the pipeline, said it was just a matter of time.

“We knew we would get here eventually,” Van Rossum said. “We have advocated, litigated, conducted critical scientific ground truthing, and been clear throughout that we would accept nothing short of cancellation. All along, we have assured residents up and down the pipeline that we could win as long as we stuck together in opposition.”

Linda Christman holds a sign outside her Carbon County home in 2020. One sign marks Christman's property as a preserved farm. The other is an advertisement for Save Carbon County, a group fighting PennEast's pipeline. TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO