Opinion: In PennEast decision, the game is rigged

new jersey environment, penneast pipeline

MICHAEL HEFFLER / NJ ENVIRONMENT NEWS – In New Jersey we use natural gas to fuel our power plants, heat our homes, fuel our generators when the power grid fails, heat our stoves, and even to run some of our fireplaces. It’s abundant.

Its abundance creates a couple of problems. One problem is that natural gas makes it more difficult to convert to renewables, like wind and solar power. Another more devilish problem is that the companies that supply natural gas to NJ can’t continue to grow -­‐ the natural gas market in NJ is big but demand isn’t growing.

Pipelines bring natural gas into NJ and there are currently enough pipelines in NJ to meet our needs well into the next decade. That’s according to the NJ Division of Rate Counsel, who monitors supply and demand for fuels in NJ. Ironically, the same point about having enough supply of natural gas to meet market demand is made in the SEC filings of the five companies that supply the natural gas market in NJ. These five companies are the investors in the PennEast pipeline.

What does this mean for the companies who supply us with natural gas?  It means in order to continue to add value to their stock prices they have to find new ways to grow revenues and profits. Deciding how to make money drives investments.

That’s basic economics. These companies could invest in renewable energy but that entails some risk. Why take on risk when the Federal Government, through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), guarantees them a 14% profit to build a pipeline?

Why in the world does the Federal Government guarantee a company a 14% profit to build a pipeline? Could it be the laws are written by the fossil fuel industry? FERC guarantees the five companies investing in PennEast a 14% profit. The game is rigged. Then FERC approves PennEast’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) -­‐ even though PennEast has not surveyed the land of about 66% of the landowners on the pipeline route in NJ.  The rigging continues -­‐ then FERC allows PennEast the right to eminent domain so they can take people’s land for an unneeded pipeline.

Does this seem right?

It’s a Trumpian world we currently live in.  Can it be that if the Federal Government lies often enough then no one will know what the truth is?

The truth is we don’t need the PennEast pipeline. The economic justification for it is based on a rigged system. The environmental justification for the PennEast pipeline is incomplete. Both the US Army Corps of Engineers and the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP) rejected the application as incomplete. The truth is there is no good reason to take people’s land and the truth is there is no good reason to put landowners in a blast zone from a pipeline that’s not needed.

Regional and state authorities can stop federally funded pipelines. The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) can reject the PennEast application as can the NJ DEP.  There is no need for the PennEast pipeline. Contorting the free market by FERC has to be stopped.  I ask the DRBC and the NJ DEP: Would you want your kids living in the blast zone of a pipeline that’s not needed?

We need to change this picture of rigged governing, rigged economics, and the rigged use of eminent domain, which is supposed to be for the public good. We need people in Congress and the Senate who will change the laws to abolish the incentives handed out by FERC that guarantees a 14% profit for unneeded pipelines.

This is a request to the DRBC and the NJ DEP to stop federally funded, unneeded pipelines in NJ. Stop PennEast.

Michael Heffler is a resident of Lambertville, N.J.


  1. I enjoyed your editorial and I would appreciate if you could please provide links to your sources. For example, could you link to the report where the NJ Division of Rate Counsel says that there are enough pipelines in NJ for the next decade? Can you also please link to the SEC filings where investors acknowledge that there is already enough natural gas in NJ to meet market demand? Finally, although you pose the question as speculation rather than fact, do you know if there are any investigations into how much of a role that the fossil fuel industry had in writing FERC guidelines, including the 14% profit on pipelines?

  2. Sylvia –
    Glad you enjoyed the editorial.
    To your questions:
    1. Stephanie Brand, Director of the NJ Division of Rate Counsel has been quoted in multiple NJ news sources and has a YouTube video stating her position on PennEast and the supply and demand of natural gas in NJ.
    2. The SEC filings I reference are the SEC filings of the 5 companies who have invested in PennEast. The SEC filing documents are available for public viewing.
    3. My question regarding the fossil fuel industry influencing FERC guidelines is just that. Without this guaranteed 14% profit this pipeline would very likely not be being built. There are, again, multiple news sources who have posited a similar question about who is writing these laws and also about the make-up of the staffing and commissioners of FERC coming from the industry.
    I hope this response is helpful.


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