What You Need to Know
- Protected 8 million acres, including land in all 50 states;
- Invested $20 billion in communities;
- Funded parks and open space in 98 percent of all U.S. counties.
In a victory for preserved open space, clean energy and our communities, the PennEast Company has officially abandoned its quest to build a nearly 120-mile natural gas pipeline from the fracking fields of northeastern Pennsylvania, across the Delaware River, and through Hunterdon and Mercer counties.
Seven years after proposing the unneeded and unwanted project, PennEast in September 2021 announced the cancellation of plans to seize public and private lands along the pipeline route – despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing the condemnations. “PennEast has ceased all further development of the Project,” the company said, citing a lack of required permits from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) as the reason.
Following PennEast’s announcement, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) vacated their prior approval of the project, removing federal authorization to condemn lands or otherwise proceed with the project.
Lands threatened by the pipeline included 42 preserved open space and farmland properties in Hunterdon and Mercer counties, several of which were preserved by New Jersey Conservation Foundation in partnership with the State of New Jersey and other agencies.
The proposed pipeline would have cut through over 4,300 preserved acres and crossed 38 of the state’s most pristine streams. These “Category 1” streams drain into the Delaware River and D&R Canal, which provide drinking water for millions of people.
PennEast’s decision to drop the project came three months after a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the company’s right to condemn state-owned land to build the pipeline. But without NJDEP permits to build in areas protected by New Jersey’s stringent environmental regulations, the high court ruling was not enough to allow the project to proceed.
PennEast was also increasingly vulnerable to scrutiny for its “self-dealing” business structure. The energy companies invested in the pipeline would mainly sell the gas to their own affiliated utilities, reaping guaranteed profits at ratepayer expense. New Jersey’s Ratepayer Advocate found no public need for the project and called it “unfair to ratepayers” who would have footed the $1 billion cost.
From the start, the project faced vigorous opposition from affected landowners and communities, and a series of legal challenges from the State of New Jersey, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, the Watershed Institute, HALT PennEast and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.
Pipeline opponents toasted the demise of the pipeline after PennEast’s announcement.
“This is a great victory for the communities, organizations and elected officials that fought this unneeded, polluting project for years,” said Tom Gilbert, then campaign director for New Jersey Conservation Foundation and ReThink Energy NJ (now co-executive director of NJ Conservation Foundation). “Our public and private lands won’t be seized and scarred, and our water and air won’t be polluted. New Jersey stayed strong and will be healthier and safer without PennEast. Fossil fuel projects such as this have no place as we transition to a clean energy future.”
“We battled this self-dealing project at every turn with economic data and science showing why PennEast would harm New Jersey ratepayers and its environment,” added Jennifer Danis, senior fellow at Columbia University Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. “PennEast’s cancellation should send a strong signal to other proposed but unneeded gas infrastructure projects: We stand ready to fight for our right to a clean and just transition to renewable energy.”
For more information on New Jersey’s transition to clean, renewable energy, visit RethinkEnergyNJ.org.
She was fresh out of college and landed as an intern for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, keeping watch over the vast Pine Barrens. In 1982, Michele Byers did not suspect that she would stay for decades and one day lead the organization – one of the premier land preservation groups in the country.
We are nearing the goal to raise five million dollars to support the initiatives closest to Michele’s heart, including:
- Accelerating the protection of additional lands for plants and wildlife, a healthy water and local food supply, and species adaptation and migration in the face of climate change. Preserved lands provide all New Jerseyans with access to parks and trails, and a high quality of life with “nature in every neighborhood.”
- Addressing the urgent climate crisis through sound policy. A new Policy Center will use data and sound science to develop policies related to natural climate solutions, clean energy, natural resource protection and environmental quality.
- Expanding our reach and addressing historic inequities by diversifying programs to engage and empower a new generation of conservation leaders to ensure equitable access to nature and to fresh, healthy, local foods, particularly in Communities of Color.
It’s not too late! If you are interested in making a special, one-time gift honoring Michele, please contact Alison Mitchell (firstname.lastname@example.org, 908-997-0711) to arrange your gift.
Long-range Planning for Public Forests
New Jersey needs a comprehensive regional vision and plan for its public forestlands to identify and designate ecologically sensitive areas and mature forests as natural areas and ensure that forest stewardship and management activities would avoid Natural Heritage Priority Sites. Such a plan will also ensure the conservation of rare forest interior species, the protection of scenic viewsheds, historic and archaeological resources, and the highly-valued passive recreational opportunities expected by the public on Green Acres-funded public lands.
One-third of the plant species native to New Jersey are now considered rare, most are declining, and the public resources devoted to the conservation and management of the natural communities that support these species have been steadily shrinking. The NJDEP Office of Natural Lands Management and the Natural Heritage Program need funding in order to protect these public trust resources.
- Determine and prioritize key public land areas (those generally lacking in pre-existing data), which require rare plant surveys.
- Develop collaborations with non-profit community and funding sources such as Natural Resource Damages funds to conduct rare plant surveys.
- Determine boundaries of new and/or expansion of Natural Heritage Priority Sites and State Natural Areas.
- Ensure that forest management, including logging, is only used as part of comprehensive planning which would ensure the protection of rare plant and animal habitats and other sensitive ecological features.
- The NJDEP and non-profit community have been striving to acquire and preserve parcels with significant conservation and recreation values for decades. Examples include the “Holly Farm” in Millville, the Conrail ROW through Wharton State Forest and other additions to various state parks, forests and wildlife management areas and natural areas. It is critical that these high priority acquisitions are fully funded and move forward quickly.
- Develop full funding for land acquisition in all settings, from urban to rural. Additional protected parkland will be required to meet the needs of both natural resource protection and recreation as New Jersey nears buildout in the next few decades. A harmful concept, specifically that “we already have more public land than we can manage,” has crept into policy decisions in the last decade, when actually most lands do not require active management to protect natural resources, and the pace of protecting additional lands must continue if we are to provide opportunities for future resilience in the face of climate change and our ever-shrinking natural resource base.
- Strengthen the Green Acres diversion rules that apply to county, municipal, and non-profit open space, and strengthen weak and outdated State House Commission requirements for diversions of state parkland.
Additional Important Stewardship Needs
- Restore habitat at the 12-year-old, 65-acre outstanding wetlands violation at Whitesbog, within Brendan Byrne State Forest.
- In combination with NJ Department of Agriculture Phillip Alampi Beneficial Insect Laboratory and NJDEP Natural Resource Damages funds, investigate means of attaining biological control for our state’s three most disastrous invasive plant species: urban floodplain (Japanese Knotweed), coastal wetlands (Phragmites) and forests (Japanese Stiltgrass).
- Harmful agricultural chemicals, especially neo-nicotinamide coated seeds, are wreaking havoc with pollinators, key insect populations and the food chain in natural environments. The New Jersey Natural Lands Trust has instituted a policy to end the use of neo-nicotinamide seeds on lands leased to farmers, whereas NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife has been able to place limits on harmful farming practices on public land. Statewide policies should be implemented to ban neo-nicotinamide coated seeds and phase-out Roundup Ready crops and sod farms on all leased public trust parklands owned by the NJDEP.
In 2017, the DEP pulled back from its plan to curb harmful off-road vehicle traffic in Wharton State Forest. However, we worked with the Pinelands Preservation Alliance and succeeded in urging the Pinelands Commission to adopt a motorized access map for all of Wharton. We are advocating that the DEP, under the Murphy Administration, enforce this new regulation and expand the designation of appropriate motorized access routes to all public lands in the Pine Barrens.
- Development of signs and downloadable mapping tools so all visitors are aware of and responsible for vehicular use of state lands
- Increased enforcement and development of restoration plans for degraded wetlands, streambanks and other illegal vehicular damage
- Uphold the recently-developed policy of prohibiting the use of “single-track” forest trails for Enduro-type dirt bike motorcycle races on state lands. Single-track trails scar the landscape and are constantly re-used without permits, causing significant harm to natural resources. Recent actions at Brendan Byrne State Forest indicate that the single-track trail prohibition is not being followed.
A Resource At Risk
At 125,000 acres, Wharton State Forest in the Pine Barrens is by far the largest state-owned forest in New Jersey. This remarkably diverse forest is home to many rare plants, threatened and endangered species and historic sites, including some 300 bird species, nearly 60 reptile and amphibian species, and more than 90 fish species. Forty-three of these animals are listed by the state as threatened or endangered, including bobcats, timber rattlesnakes and red-headed woodpeckers.
Since Wharton was purchased in the mid-1950s, motorized vehicles have been allowed to travel its network of sandy roads to tour the quiet of the forest’s interior, visit historic ghost towns and put in a canoe.
In recent years the damage to habitats and roads within the state forest has greatly accelerated as people in motorized vehicles have deliberately torn up fragile wetlands creating deep and dangerous puddles, destroying habitats, and making access for other users almost impossible.
The damage at Wharton State Forest has also hindered fire suppression efforts, and search and rescue, due to damaged roadways. Enforcement of illegal off-road activities has been extremely difficult without a map clearly designating roads where motorized vehicle use is permitted and delineating those areas that are strictly prohibited.
New Jersey Assuming Leadership on Clean Energy, Climate Change NJ has a goal to reach 100% clean energy by 2050!
In a short period of time since Governor Murphy took office, New Jersey has made significant strides in addressing the monumental challenge of climate change and in becoming a leader on clean, renewable energy.
In January 2018, Governor Murphy signed an executive order taking steps to bring New Jersey back into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cooperative effort among the States of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce power sector CO2 emissions. New Jersey had been a RGGI member until former Governor Christie removed our state from the program in 2011.
In the first half of 2018, the state legislature passed and Governor Murphy signed the landmark clean energy law, making New Jersey among the leading states nationwide on renewable energy. The law requires that 50% of energy consumed in the state come from renewable sources by 2030, and sets ambitious targets for offshore wind, energy efficiency and storage. New Jersey Conservation Foundation played a key role in shaping the legislation with our partners and is now working to ensure it is implemented effectively, especially the new solar energy policies required.
Governor Murphy also signed an executive order directing the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to create a new Energy Master Plan with a goal of 100% clean energy by 2050. New Jersey Conservation Foundation has been providing expert input to the BPU to help shape an effective plan that will transition New Jersey away from polluting fossil fuels to clean, well-sited, renewable energy, which is the goal of the Rethink Energy NJ campaign that we lead.
Reaching our clean energy goals
An essential step to achieve these aggressive clean energy goals is for the governor to jump-start New Jersey’s most promising new clean energy industry — offshore wind — which the BPU is moving ahead with through the nation’s largest offshore wind solicitation of 1,100 MW that will bring clean energy as well as new companies and jobs to NJ. Other urgent actions include taking steps to prevent the construction of the many proposed fracked gas pipelines, such as PennEast, and other fossil fuel infrastructure that would drive up emissions and impede progress toward reaching clean energy goals.
Following extensive discussions and litigation over a proposed high-rise on the cliffs, LG Electronics USA, New Jersey Conservation Foundation and a number of parties interested in LG’s new North American headquarters in New Jersey reached a “win-win” solution.
The new building design will create a world-class, sustainably designed building to the benefit of LG, the town of Englewood Cliffs and the state of New Jersey, while protecting the iconic vistas and integrity of the Palisades Park, a National Natural and Historic Landmark.
LG reached the mutually beneficial settlement with Scenic Hudson, the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Natural Resources Defense Council, New Jersey Conservation Foundation and New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.
The new building design, reflecting compromises by all the parties, calls for a five-story north wing just shy of 70 feet in height and a three-story south wing, protecting the scenic views of the Palisades. LG will implement landscape, lighting and other design features to further reduce visual impacts, while retaining the scale of the complex as home for LG’s growing U.S. business.
New Jersey has a strong history of adopting comprehensive regional plans. Regional planning that incorporates environmental protection is critical to protecting the land and water supplies on which we depend. Other important benefits include stabilizing local property taxes, retaining the character of rural areas and established communities, and generally promoting growth in places where it is less environmentally damaging and more cost-effective to build, because of the presence of existing infrastructure like roads, sewers and public water systems.
New Jersey Conservation Foundation has been integrally involved in the passage of many landmark New Jersey regional planning laws, including the Pinelands Protection Act, the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park law, and the State Planning Act. Constant vigilance is required to ensure these laws and their regional plans remain strong over time.
The Highlands are part of the great sweep of the Appalachian Mountains that shadows the East Coast from Maine to Georgia. The Highlands Region extends from southeastern Pennsylvania through northwest New Jersey into New York and Connecticut. With forested ridges, pastoral farmland, and pure streams, lakes and reservoirs, the Highlands form a greenbelt surrounding the most populous metropolitan area in the US. The Highlands provide an essential source of drinking water, clean air, critical wildlife habitat, historic resources, recreational opportunities and scenic beauty for both its residents and the millions of people who live within an hour’s travel.
About the New Jersey Highlands Act
New Jersey’s 2004 Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act passed by overwhelming majorities in the State legislature after two decades of focused citizen and governmental efforts to protect the New Jersey Highlands Region. The 860,000 acre Highlands, with only 17 percent of the land in the State, provides drinking water to 5.4 million – nearly two-thirds – of the State’s residents, who live in fifteen counties in northern, central and southern New Jersey.
If you are either a Highlands water-drinker or a Highlands resident, there is good reason for you to become involved in the region’s protection. The New Jersey Highlands Coalition has an outreach program directed to Highlands water-receiving areas outside the region. To find out more visit the Highlands Coalition website.
The Highlands Act affects 88 municipalities in parts of seven counties: Bergen, Passaic, Morris, Somerset, Hunterdon, Sussex and Warren. The Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council (Highlands Council) and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) are both charged with implementing the Act. The DEP has rule-making authority over the Preservation Area, about half the region, much of which is preserved state and county lands. The Highlands Council completed the required Regional Master Plan (RMP) for the 88 municipalities in 2008.
Highlands Plan Conformance
Conformance with the Plan is mandatory for the Preservation Area, but voluntary for the Planning Area. Since the Plan is based on scientific assessments of available water supply and septic capability in each watershed, its build-out scenario, along with required environmental ordinances, offers a blueprint for sustainable, capacity-based development for all Highlands municipalities in both the Preservation and Planning Areas. Implementation is achieved through municipal conformance with the Plan, which benefits substantially from the involvement and support of local residents.
We periodically post action alerts on Highlands issues, so please sign up for our email alerts and stay tuned!
Get The Latest News
From The Garden State