NJ Environmentalists Fight Gas Pipeline Expansion

New Jersey environmentalists are fighting a gas pipeline project that would cut through the protected Highlands, the undeveloped northwest corner of the state.

The first round of permit approvals is expected to begin Thursday with a vote by the Highlands Council. It's part of a 40-mile pipeline expansion to transport methane from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania that runs through steep woodlands and under the Monksville Reservoir.

The environmentalists say the proposed protections coming before the council are not enough to preserve the land or maintain water quality.

“You're creating an ugly scar, cutting through one of the most scenic areas in the country, let alone the highlands, and how can you mitigate against that destruction?” asked Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club.

The Highlands Council approval, Tittel said, will be used by Tennessee Gas to leverage other permit approvals that will be needed from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the Federal Energy Regulation Commission.

“The gas lobby will say, ‘If the Higlands Council doesn’t have a problem with this, then why should we?’” Tittel said.

 But Highlands Council Director Eileen Swan said her organization can do little to stop the project, which she says is merely an expansion of gas pipeline that is already there.

“I don't see it as green-lighting the project at all,” Swan said. “I see it as if the project is going to occur, how best can we protect the environment.”

The Highlands Council is made up of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. But Tittel and other environmentalists say the 10 members Governor Chris Christie has appointed to the 15-member council are pro-development and don’t even believe the Highlands Council should exist.  Swan disagreed with that characterization and said the council was actively trying to protect the wilderness.