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Chalk another one up for the people

When it comes to major projects, it’s not often that a determined grassroots effort carries the day, but that is precisely what happened after the players in the PennEast pipeline proposal threw in the towel.

Of course, they did not phrase the decision quite so cavalierly, but that’s the way the bottom line reads after years of battles with local landowners here and elsewhere along the route of the proposed natural gas pipeline.

Of course, if we want to be brutally honest, it was more the reluctance of New Jersey state officials more than those in Pennsylvania who threw obstacles in the way of the project, but, make no mistake about it, it was a concerted effort by landowners, environmental groups and others whose efforts led to this historic outcome.

By way of review, PennEast proposed building a $1 billion, 36-inch pipeline that would have run between Dallas in Luzerne County and Pennington, Mercer County, New Jersey. The route would have taken it through parts of Luzerne, Carbon, Monroe and Northampton counties en route to the Trenton area.

In a way, PennEast’s announcement was startling, especially since it had won an important 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision in June to use eminent domain to run the pipeline across property owned or controlled by the State of New Jersey.

With that major victory in its pocket, PennEast reportedly was planning on starting construction later this year, but then PennEast notified a federal court that it was withdrawing eminent domain proceedings against New Jersey for 42 parcels that the state either owns or controls.

This came on the heels of PennEast’s decision to drop its eminent domain cases against landowners in Pennsylvania where the project was to have started.

A PennEast spokesperson, in a statement last month, said that although it had received some permits, it had not received others, including a water quality certification and other wetlands permits required under the Clean Waters Act of New Jersey.

Therefore, the spokesman said, “the PennEast partners, following extensive evaluation and discussion determined further development of the project no longer is supported. Accordingly, PennEast has ceased all further development of the project.”

The news was greeted with elation from Linda Christman, who founded the Save Carbon County group after she had begun fighting PennEast’s proposal seven years ago to protect the family’s century-old farm in Towamensing Township.

In a recent letter to the Times News, Christman objected to the characterization of her and others engaged in the fight against PennEast by state Sen. John Yudichak, I-Carbon, as “environmental extremists.”

“The opposition in Carbon County defended our private property from a forced ‘taking’ from a pipeline that would never benefit Carbon County residents,” she wrote. She added that the pipeline was not needed and was damaging to the environment and “to our future on this planet.”

The opposition was widespread and organized and cited what it believed to be the pipeline’s harmful impact on the environment, especially waterways that provide clean water to homes and farms along the way. Much of the pipeline route would have run through breathtaking rural areas of both states.

A statement from PennFuture, an environmental advocacy group, said that the pipeline also would have resulted in the loss of wetlands, destruction of forest habitat and would have increased greenhouse gas emissions.

The decision was not greeted with unanimous approval. Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, saw it as a serious public loss. “Let’s be clear: This is no victory - not for ratepayers, who are now lacking a reliable source of gas and electricity; not for the economy, which is now out several thousand well-paying construction jobs at a time when the economy continues to struggle, and not for the environment, as this obstruction results in the mid-Atlantic being more reliant on imported fuels from foreign nations that do not have our strict environmental standards,” Barr said.

Even more pointed opposition came from the online publication, Marcellus Drilling News, which monitors activity in pipeline development and which said PennEast capitulated to the “forces of evil.” It said it was referring to “left-wing wackadoodle anti-fossil fuel extremists.”

What drivel!

The grassroots PennEast success is reminiscent of what happened in Eldred Township when Nestle Waters abandoned its project to extract water from Chestnut Springs, a pristine body of water in western Monroe County.

A Nestle official cited several reasons for the company’s change of heart but said that one of the primary motivators was the dogged opposition and determination that residents showed when they mobilized against the project.

Too many apathetic Americans are convinced that the deck is stacked against them, that they can’t take on a company, business, giant corporation, that they can’t fight city hall. Here are some major examples of why this is not always true.

Congratulations to all who participated in the long PennEast opposition battle. It shows once again that when the stars align, David can topple Goliath.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.