Brian D Scanlan and Sam DiFalco
For the past two years, North Jersey communities have organized to stop a dangerous pipeline extension that is threatening public safety, clean water and clean air. Despite public outrage and pending appeals, federal regulators recently gave the company permission to begin construction.
Despite this setback, Governor Phil Murphy still has the power to stop this dangerous plan.
In the summer of 2020, Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company LLC, a subsidiary of Texas-based Kinder Morgan, applied for permits for a massive expansion of its existing pipeline system, which runs through North Jersey. TGP intends to triple the size of its Wantage compressor station and build a new one in the sheltered Highlands region of West Milford, on a site just 1,200 feet from the Monksville Reservoir, which provides clean drinking water to millions of New Jersey residents provided. The project will transfer larger volumes of higher pressure fracked gas through a legacy pipeline system to Westchester County, New York.
In the two years since these permit applications were submitted, residents and environmental activists from across Murphy State have called for this reckless and unnecessary expansion to stop. Seven communities at risk from this program have passed resolutions against the project, and more than 70 health professionals have written to the governor regarding the health and safety risks of compressor stations and the danger they pose to surrounding communities .
Affected residents:Protest planned in West Milford as modernization of natural gas pipeline begins
Earlier this year, an accident at the Wantage TGP compressor station blew up an uncontrolled cloud of toxic gas for a full 70 minutes, prompting numerous emergency calls and causing residents to flee indoors. This event was frightening but not extraordinary; According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, between 2006 and 2017, TGP had 111 significant incidents involving its pipelines, resulting in $89,815,380 in property damage and 19 federal enforcement actions.
Much of TGP’s pipeline is 65 years old, 15 years past its useful life. Still, TGP wants to triple the amount of fracked gas forced through this pipeline, putting the health and safety of local residents at risk. Leaks, explosions and accidents are to be expected along the pipeline. One such event happened along this very pipeline in Pennsylvania in July, when a ruptured section of pipe caused an explosion and fire that burned for five acres before it could be contained.
Murphy regularly spews high-flying rhetoric about the urgent need to address the climate crisis. But a serious climate agenda would mean halting new fossil fuel projects; Instead, the Murphy government’s Department of Environmental Protection has approved permit after permit. Now only one permit is missing and TGP has received the green light to start construction. The governor has never publicly admitted that this project even exists.
Nevertheless, Murphy can meet his environmental obligations and stop this project. In his first term, he championed his Energy Masterplan to address “our state’s centuries-old dependence on fossil fuels” and set a goal of 100% clean energy by 2040. Recently, the governor signed an executive order for a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030 and a requirement for builders to consider the impact of climate change when seeking permits for their projects. New Jersey is already off track to meet those goals, and things could get worse if Murphy continues to approve dirty energy expansion plans. There are seven major new fossil fuel projects proposed in our state that could lead to a significant increase in climate pollution.
With his pledge to expand offshore wind energy, along with rolling out the country’s first climate curriculum for public schools and signing the country’s strongest environmental justice bill, Murphy can leave a strong legacy as a climate champion. But he can’t have both. If Murphy allows TGP to proceed with this pipeline expansion, he will be sacrificing the health and safety of his constituents and our collective responsibilities to quickly address the climate crisis.
Murphy can still stop this project. But we’re running out of time.
Brian D. Scanlan is a former mayor and councilman of Wyckoff.
Sam DiFalco is the organizer of the advocacy group Food & Water Watch.