South Jersey Gas tried and failed in 2014 to get the approval of the board that oversees the state's million-acre pineland preserve.
Now the company is trying again to get that approval. So what's changed?
Gov. Chris Christie supports the pipeline, and he's got a new appointee on the Pinelands Commission, which could decide the fate of the venture. The state Senate approved Robert Barr this year amid protests from environmentalists and after several delays. Barr joins the Pinelands Commission after it deadlocked in 2014 and replaces a commissioner who voted against the project. Barr has not said how he would vote on the question.
South Jersey Gas says the project has the support of the state Board of Public Utilities, the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Protection. The proposed line would run from Maurice River Township in Cumberland County to the BL England plant in Upper Township in Cape May County. But because part of it cuts through the Pinelands, the company was also required to seek the commission's approval. To support their case, the company says it is presenting new information, including that the plant would reduce air pollution in the Pinelands. The plant is now fueled by coal and oil. The company also says that the repowered BL England plant would provide 86 percent of its output to the Pinelands region once the Oyster Creek Nuclear Plant closes in 2019.
Environmental groups opposed the pipeline proposal in 2014 and seem unconvinced by the gas company's arguments this time. They argue it threatens wildlife and habitat and contributes to pollution. South Jersey Gas has rejected those claims, saying most of the pipeline would run along Routes 49 and 50 and would not disturb animal or marine life in the region.
"They're trying to turn the Pinelands into the Pipelands," said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. "The violation of the public trust and the violation of the Pinelands rules is getting even worse with this application."