In a published decision released just today, the New Jersey Appellate Division ruled that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection should not have issued an exemption to the Highlands Act to Tennessee Gas Pipeline (TGP) to build its massive East 300 pipeline expansion project in West Milford.

The decision means that TGP has no permit for the construction work they are currently conducting in the Highlands Preservation Area in West Milford, and are out of compliance with other state laws.  

The East 300 project consists of a major new gas compressor station in West Milford, and the significant expansion of two existing compressor stations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The project is meant to dramatically increase the supply of fracked gas into New York.

Opponents of the project have argued that the East 300 project poses serious risks to critical drinking water supplies in New Jersey, and it would increase fossil fuel supplies to New York, which has already determined that it does not need the gas and has laws requiring dramatic reductions in climate pollution.

This decision could effectively halt construction on the project, at least until the DEP determines whether or not the $246 Million project is a ‘routine’ upgrade.  If DEP subsequently determines the project is not a routine upgrade consistent with the goals and purposes of the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, the company would then have to demonstrate that the project can comply with the stringent rules and regulations regulating industrial development within the Highlands Preservation Area.

“Today is a major win for the Highlands. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company tried to push their new fossil fuel project under the guise of a routine upgrade and were just denied by the appellate court. We thank the court for doing NJDEP’s job of protecting the Highlands and its critical resources. This ruling is a huge setback for TGP and a wake up call to New Jersey that they will not let DEP rubber stamp another unnecessary fossil fuel project,” said Anjuli Ramos-Busot, New Jersey Director of the Sierra Club. “Now the NJDEP needs to stop TGP’s illegal construction going on. More importantly, Governor Murphy must clearly see that this project is not needed and shut it down.” 

“In light of today’s historic court ruling protecting our clean water resources from the threat of major oil and gas development in the sensitive Highlands region, Governor Murphy and his DEP must do their jobs and immediately issue a halt work order on this dirty, dangerous and illegal pipeline expansion project,” said Matt Smith, New Jersey State Director for Food & Water Watch. “The governor should then take this opportunity to deny the project outright, as there's no need for this gas, the project threatens clean water for millions of New Jersey residents, and because we're in a deepening climate emergency that will only be made worse by fracked gas pipeline expansion projects like this one.”

In their ruling, the judges acknowledged that Tennessee Gas has been constructing the project “at their own risk” while this court case was heard and adjudicated.

 “If DEP needed to be reminded why the legislature enacted an extraordinary intervention in order to protect the essential water and other natural resources of the Highlands, it got it today,” said Elliott Ruga, Policy and Communications Director of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition, one of the co-appellants in the case. “The court referenced the preamble of the Highlands Act, which makes the case for protecting the ‘exceptional natural resources’ of the Highlands, which were under grave threat due to uncontrolled sprawl development. The court re-drew the line against major developments that the Highlands Act intended to stop, which DEP apparently forgot when issuing TGP its exemption. The court unequivocally reminded DEP of the Highlands Act mandate to restrict development in the Highlands Preservation Area."

“Eastern Environmental Law Center is proud to have partnered with our clients in this case, and to have successfully fought for an outcome that is in keeping with the legacy of Highlands champion and EELC founder, Ed Lloyd,” said Chris Miller, Executive Director of EELC.  “The court’s decision sends a clear message that DEP’s paramount responsibility in implementing the Highlands Act is to protect the region’s sensitive environmental resources through stringent regulation of proposed development.”

According to Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Tennessee Gas Pipeline had at least 257 significant failures (leaks, fires, and explosions) from 1986 to 2017. This number does not include the less notable accidents that did not meet the criteria for reporting.

From 2006 to 2017, according to PHMSA failure reports, TGP had 111 "significant incidents" with their pipelines, resulting in $89,815,380 in property damage and 19 federal enforcement actions.

From 2006 to 2017, 27 federal enforcement actions were initiated against TGP, with $422,500 in penalties. Federal inspectors were onsite at TGP locations for 661 days plus 187 days of accident investigations.

From 2006 to 2017, faulty infrastructure caused most of TGP's onshore gas transmission pipeline accidents. Corrosion (internal or external), equipment malfunctions, manufacturing defects, faulty welds, and incorrect installation together accounted for 56% of leaks and more than $90 million in property damage.


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