Court: Pipeline opponents were right

U.S. Court of Appeals says the feds conducted a piecemeal environmental review of gas pipeline upgrade

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  • The court says they were right: opponents of the pipeline upgrade protest last year (Photo: Save Cummins Hill: savecumminshill.org)



"This is what a lot of people said — it’s good, we need gas, we drive cars, we haven’t come up with any solutions, so what do you suggest? We were called agitators, activists. But it’s the only way to make change happen, from civil rights, the women’s movement to independence from Britain. Now, in this area, I feel like we’re under siege from the oil and gas infrastructure.”
Jolie DeFeis, Save Cummins Hill

By Anya Tikka
— Opponents of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Northeast Upgrade had been right all the time, according to a recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals. The court ordered the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to fully reassess the entire project.

In one of the first wins any group has had taking the oil and gas industry to court, FERC was found to have cut the project into segments, each with its own Environmental Assessment. The full 80-mile length of pipeline was never evaluated as a whole with the more rigorous Environmental Impact Statement process.

She concluded, “You need to look at these projects in their totality," said Jolie DeFeis, one of the founding members of the Save Cummins Hill group. "This is the first time they’ve been called out on this segmentation.”

The pipeline has now been built. It crosses Route 6 with Cummings Hill Road, approaches the Delaware School campus, continues under the Delaware River, and comes up in Montague, N.J.

In Westfall, "they cut right through the mountain," said DeFeis. "They confiscated property. Fourteen property owners had their property taken through eminent domain."

Tennessee Gas then made a seven-mile detour, cutting down trees in a "loop" that was not in the plans.

The pipeline was upgraded to transport natural gas from the Marcellus Shale into New Jersey markets, increasing the size and capacity to transport the gas that’s now extracted in large volumes using the controversial hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, method.

“Fracking in our opinion is a dangerous practice and not something we should be relying on for our economy," DeFeis said. "They say, we’re your saviors, we are going to bring you jobs, and bring money to town, we’re going to get energy independence. But the gas is shipped all over the world; the shareowners of many companies are not American at all."

“It’s like a traveling circus," she continued. "Maybe some businesses made money selling sandwiches and so on, but you have to have specific skills to build those pipelines. All those trucks had out of state plates, and now they’re all gone. We see no benefits. Look at the condition Pennsylvania is in. All of the money we’re supposed to get from oil and gas industry has not come.”

The organizations that led the fight in courts were the Delaware Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club, and the Delaware Highlands Coalition. They took the case all the way to the Federal Court of Appeals arguing that what Tennessee Gas was doing was illegal.

Taking it to the streets
Meanwhile, Save Cummings Hill led the fight in the streets, starting with a group protest in front of Tennessee Gas on Route 6.

During the first protest, 87-year-old George Feighner of Montague said the pipeline was going right through his backyard, and that he was fighting back legally. DeFeis met with his attorney, David Wallace, who became involved in the fight on both sides of the river.

“David and I helped each other a lot," DeFeis said. "I worked on the Pennsylvania side trying to get through to the politicians to get support on our side, and he worked on the New Jersey side to get support from some of his legislators and town people. We were fighting against the pipeline, saying we don’t want it, it’s bad for the environment, the air, the soil, the water. It’s unnecessary. They took a seven-mile detour, cut hundreds of thousands of trees."

The group also tied yellow ribbons around the trees that were going to be cut, led a motor brigade through, and held a candlelight vigil. DeFeis met with Senator Bob Casey, Congressman Tom Marino, the Pike County commissioners, and all state representatives.

Tennessee Gas wasn’t just sitting around during that time.

“Tennessee Gas spent a lot of money,” DeFeis said. “They printed glossy brochures and mailed them to everyone’s home, talking about how it was a great project, how everyone was going to benefit, it was going to bring jobs and money to town. This is what a lot of people said — it’s good, we need gas, we drive cars, we haven’t come up with any solutions, so what do you suggest? There was a lot of negativity around the pipeline. We were called agitators, activists. But it’s the only way to make change happen, from civil rights, the women’s movement to independence from Britain. Now, in this area, I feel like we’re under siege from the oil and gas infrastructure.”

The group that grew around the protest has all kinds of members, DeFeis said. “It has Democrats, Republicans, young people, old people, people who care about the environment, and people who care just about their personal property.”

Although the pipeline is a done deal, the case will go back to FERC for the proper review.

“It’s kind of ironic it’s going back to FERC, the people who approved it in the first place,” DeFeis said.

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