Monday, February 2, 2009

NJ's Great Power Line Debate: Round 2

In case you're just joining New Jersey's big power-line debate, here's where things stand.

Public Service Electric & Gas, New Jersey's largest and most politically powerful utility, wants to erect the 500-kv Susquehanna-Roseland electric transmission line between the Delaware Water Gap in Warren County and the town of Roseland in Essex County.

A number of municipalities and residents along the route, joined by a coalition of environmental organizations, oppose the project for various reasons, principally centering on concerns involving property values, health questions and the project's potential to encourage sprawl and degrade the environment.

Part of the power line would run through the Highlands, an area of the state that the Legislature has put off limits to development because of its perceived environmental sensitivity.

Staff members of the Highlands Council, the state agency riding herd on all development in the area, has reviewed the PSE&G proposal and determined that it is not in compliance with the Highlands Act, the Highlands Regional Master Plan and with NJDEP's rules governing the Highlands Preservation Area. The staff reported its findings on December 22, 2008.

On January 30, 2009,PSE&G formally responded with comments arguing that the project, as a "utility line upgrade," need only be consistent with the Highlands Act's "goals and purposes."

The utility's arguments are summarized in a three-page cover letter to the Council from PSE&G's Director of Environmental Policy and Strategy Donald McCloskey, and detailed in a seven-page legal analysis by Dennis M. Toft, an attorney with the firm of Wolff and Samson.

The arguments no doubt will be scrutinized by project foes and their attorneys. That's because they provide the legal platform that political leaders can stand on should they decide to grant PSE&G an exemption, allowing the project to move ahead.

That's the legal side of the fight and it likely will receive its next airing when the Highlands Council meets on February 23.

Big public policy decisions in New Jersey, however, are not made on the basis of legalities alone. So PSE&G, as politically astute a corporation as you'll find anywhere, also continues to advance its case on the public relations front in a series of paid "advertorials" appearing on the opinion pages of New Jersey's largest daily newspaper, the Star-Ledger.

These pieces of persuasion are so devilishly masterful, both in design and execution, that they deserve separate attention, which I plan to provide in an upcoming post.

Stay tuned.


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