Friday, August 14, 2015

Hunterdon Freeholders Express Rational Concerns About the Proposed PennEast Pipeline

The Hunterdon County, New Jersey Freeholders announced their opposition to PennEast Pipeline Company’s proposed natural gas pipeline through Western Hunterdon County in New Jersey. Opposition to the pipeline is nothing new. What’s notable about the Freeholder’s announcement is their reasons. Unlike most other opposition that I have seen, which is rooted in NIMBY/Environmentalist “Jihadism,” the Freeholders have rational reasons for their stand.

Without directly addressing the Freeholders specific concerns, I left these comments expressing my appreciation for their refreshingly rational approach to PennEast’s major project:

The most vocal opponents of the PennEast pipeline are ideologically motivated by irrational prejudice against fossil fuels. So, while I may not agree with all of the Freeholders’ reasoning, it’s refreshing to read of the Freeholders’ resolution.

Yes, there are valid concerns. I think the threat of eminent domain tops the list. The Freeholders hold that “a judicial taking of property for use by a for-profit corporation ‘should always be a last resort’.” I would go further, and say that there is never justification for using eminent domain to transfer property from one private owner to another private owner, for-profit or otherwise. (I oppose all use of eminent domain, even for “public use,” but that is another issue.) PennEast should be required to negotiate a voluntary compensation agreement with landowners. Private property rights are paramount, and so-called “public benefit”—whatever that means—is not a valid reason for violating those rights, or the rights of PennEast to build their pipeline and market their natgas.

But given that eminent domain is a reality today, it’s good to see that the Freeholders are going to bat for affected property owners. While I don’t believe any compensation is just or “sufficient” for an unwilling property owner, maximizing their compensation is the next best thing.

The Freeholders also hold that there are better, less disruptive routes available for consideration. I’m not an expert in this area. But assuming these alternate routes are truly viable options, PennEast must be ready to consider these alternatives even if it raises their construction costs, and the Freeholders must be ready to meet them halfway, as their resolution implies they stand ready to do.

But what the Freeholders refreshingly don’t do is condemn pipelines and the energy they deliver wholesale. As the Freeholders show, reasonable people can have valid objections to the pipeline. They also show that all reasonable people understand the overarching, indispensable value of energy—including fossil fuel, our primary energy source today—to our way of life. I applaud the Freeholders for approaching this issue from this perspective. We should reject the anti-fossil fuel, anti-pipeline “jihadists,” whose only goal is to stop pipelines. Instead, we should urge the company and the public authorities to work together to find the best way—with due protection of everyone’s rights—to add this project to our vital pipeline network.

Related Reading:

Rights, Fossil Fuel Dangers, Future Generations, and the PennEast Pipeline

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