A local lawmaker is lending his support to a new natural gas pipeline, provided it is developed responsibly, he says.
However, some people who could have the pipeline as a neighbor aren’t happy about that.
State Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, recently wrote a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which reviews interstate natural gas pipeline projects, asking for approval of the approximately $1 billion PennEast pipeline.
Read Yudichak’s letter.
Yudichak said he has publicly supported the pipeline and natural gas-related development in general.
“I’ve been on the record for responsible, regulated development of the natural gas industry,” he said.
Yudichak stressed that his support is conditional: PennEast needs to respect local property rights and ensure environmental protection.
“Should it not respect land rights, should it not respect the environment, my qualified support would be pulled,” he said.
But for some residents affected by the pipeline, such as Mary Leeds of Kingston Township, “There’s no such thing as qualified support.”
She believes all the local legislators are in favor of the pipeline, and hasn’t heard anything to make her think otherwise.
“In this area, the representation that we have in the state legislature is all in the conservative aisle of politics,” Leeds said, describing herself as a centrist. “They’re all more to the right, and in favor of big business … I don’t think they have a concern for the impact it will have on their constituents.”
Asked about her stance, State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, who represents Dallas and Kingston townships, wrote in an email, “My primary interest is making sure that landowners and citizens have the appropriate opportunities to ask questions and register concerns.
“Pipelines are needed, and companies deserve a thorough review of their proposals. But I am not supporting particular companies or specific projects. These projects have substantial economic and environmental implications and should be judged on that basis, in my view. The community interest first and foremost is public health and safety. That is why I continue to push for additional pipeline safety measures.”
PennEast plans to lay 114 miles of 36-inch diameter pipeline that will run from a hookup to the Transco interstate natural gas pipeline in Dallas Township to Mercer County, New Jersey.
The company filed a formal application with FERC in September. The federal agency is putting together a draft environmental impact statement, one of the steps in the approval process.
The current route brings the pipeline directly between Leeds’ house on Manor Drive and that of her parents, and would require clear-cutting a 200-foot-wide slice of the pine woods across the street.
Leeds has not signed an easement agreement with PennEast, and on Feb. 12 she hosted a demonstration to protest the idea that, if FERC approves the pipeline, the company will have the power of eminent domain.
“To me it boils down to a for-profit company able to exercise eminent domain on private property owned by a citizen of the United States,” she said.
Yudichak admits it is a lot to ask for a homeowner who never had a pipeline by his or her property before to accept one.
“I share those same sensitivities, whether individual land rights or environmental protection,” he said.
“I have a great sensitivity to — and reservations about — the use of eminent domain.”
Yudichak said he hears from constituents in terms of negative impacts, and takes their concerns to FERC.
“I certainly respect those in the community who are opposed to the natural gas industry,” he said. “I have a different opinion: I think there can be a balance. I think we can grow the natural gas industry in a responsible way.”
The PennEast pipeline would run through the backyard of Plains Township resident Michael Loncoski, a constituent of Yudichak’s, as well as the backyards of his neighbors on Saylor Avenue.
“The deep pockets of politicians who receive campaign donations from the gas industry only care about being re-elected,” Loncoski stated. “It seems the corporations control their thinking and actions. Mr. Yudichak’s letter is a slap in the face to all residents of this state and puts all persons in harm’s way that will be near this explosive pipeline.”
Yudichak denied politics or contributions played a role in his support for PennEast. He cited job creation potential, such as “good quality” construction jobs when the pipeline is built. He pointed out that his family members, including his father, worked such jobs.
With Northeastern Pennsylvania’s high unemployment rates, “I would be doing my constituents a disservice if didn’t work on job creation,” Yudichak said.
However, Leeds said the PennEast construction jobs are temporary, there aren’t many of them, and they will be filled by out-of-state workers.
And, she noted, PennEast won’t pay taxes on the pipeline, but she will.
“I will continue to pay property taxes on my parcel, even though they have the right of a permanent easement, into infinity,” she said. “They can build anything they want. They have the right of way, and it’s permanent.”
Positive aspects of pipelines include building up Pennsylvania and the United States’ energy infrastructure, lowering energy costs and developing energy independence, Yudichak said. He said 50 percent of Pennsylvanians don’t have access to “affordable, clean-burning” natural gas.
“We are behind the game in terms of building out our infrastructure,” he said. “We want to get it to homes, we want to get it to businesses, we want to get it to factories that are making things here in America.”
One project that would benefit from the PennEast pipeline is the Blue Mountain water park near Palmerton in Carbon County, which Yudichak called “a significant source of local jobs for our region’s tourism industry.”
PennEast’s plans include a UGI Central Penn Gas Inc. connection to the pipeline to serve Blue Mountain. The ski resort is planning a new “spa/hot springs/water park that will further make us a year-round attraction,” according to a Feb. 23 letter Blue Mountain Resort President Barbara Green wrote to FERC.
“The PennEast Pipeline is vital to our expansion; the water park alone will result in $30 million in local construction, 22 full-time employees, 692 part-time jobs and up to 3,000 visitors a day during the summer.”
PennEast Pipeline Co., LLC is a partnership among AGL Resources, NJR Pipeline Company, PSEG Power LLC, South Jersey Industries, Spectra Energy Partners and UGI Energy Services.
The PennEast pipeline will run through West Wyoming, Wyoming, Jenkins Township, Plains and Bear Creek Township in Luzerne County, and Kidder, Penn Forest, Towamensing and Lower Towamensing townships in Carbon County.