Saturday, November 26, 2011

A big Thanksgiving for opponents of fracking, power line

If environmentalists were pleasantly surprised last week when an expected vote to allow the use of fracking to extract natural gas in the Delaware River basin was blocked [Fracking foes celebrate a win but cannot declare victory] they had to be stunned days later when a federal agency delivered a totally unexpected Thanksgiving gift.

Standing up to a formidable array of political interests, including electric power companies in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the governors, lawmakers and regulators in both states, operators of the PJM Grid, and even the liberal editorial writers at the (Newark) Star-Ledger, the relatively puny National Parks Service recommended that a proposed high-power line through the Delaware Water Gap not be built.

Environmentalists and residents living along the line's route in both states have been fighting against the proposal for more than a year, claiming that doubling the existing line's capacity from 230 kilovolts to 500 kilovolts, and carrying that power load on new towers some 165 to 190 feet taller than the exiting 65 to 80 foot structures, would create a visual and environmental scar, especially through the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area.

Star-Ledger graphic by Frank Cecala

The opponents had been vigorous in their protests despite a long series of setbacks in both states. But they sunk into a resigned slump back in October when Interior Secretary Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that the Obama Administration had selected the project as one of several to "fast track."

The enviros took Salazar's announcement as a signal that the President, with re-election looming, had decided in favor of economic development over environmental protection and that they, essentially, were screwed.

Event the Star-Ledger declared in a Nov. 9 editorial: New Susquehanna-Roseland power line must be built.

"You have to have some sympathy for them. This line will be ugly and sections will stretch nearly 200 feet tall, dwarfing the existing line. As it winds through the Highlands region, it will tarnish unspoiled views.

"But the hard fact is that New Jersey needs this line, or we will soon be at risk of brownouts and blackouts. Imagine how helpful that would be to the region’s economy, to the quality of life and to public safety. Let’s face it: We need the juice."

So, as we said at the start, the National Park Service's  recommendation was more than surprising.

"Very unusual" is how Julia Somers, executive director of the Highlands Coalition, described it
"It was gutsy of the NPS to have taken this position." 

The recommendation, however, does not end the controversy.

While choosing a 'no build' alternative among six options considered in its draft environmental impact study, the National Park Service noted that a final decision won't come for a year.

In the meanwhile, it plans three public hearings on its recommendation:
  • Jan. 24 at the Fernwood Hotel on Route 209 in Bushkill, Pa.
  • Jan. 25 at the Stroudsmoor Country Inn in Stroudsburg, Pa.; and 
  • Jan. 26 at the Farmstead Golf and Country Club on Lawrence Road in Andover. 

Public comment is to be accepted through Jan. 31. The full study and information on submitting comment can be accessed here

Susquehanna-Roseland power line faces one more round of scrutiny
Park Service's final decision on power line a year away
National Park Service Opposes New Power Lines in the Delaware Water Gap

National Park Service: Susquehanna-Roseland line best for environment if not built


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