Wayne Parry reports for the Associated Press:
Four former governors are renewing their objections to a proposed natural gas pipeline cutting across the ecologically sensitive Pinelands region to fuel a southern New Jersey power plant at the center of one of the biggest jobs-versus-environment clashes in recent state history.
Democrats Brendan Byrne and Jim Florio and Republicans Christie Todd Whitman and Tom Kean sent a letter Friday to the New Jersey Pinelands Commission, saying nothing has changed since the commission failed to approve the pipeline in 2014.
But the commission's executive director unilaterally ruled that it could proceed. An appeals court sent the matter back to the commission for a new vote, which has not yet been scheduled. A public hearing is set for Jan. 24.
The pipe would fuel a power plant in Cape May County that is switching from coal to natural gas.
"We share a deep commitment to the Pinelands as one of New Jersey's most precious resources, and to the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan as the nation's most successful program to save vulnerable natural resources in the context of a crowded and vibrant state," the governors wrote. "Because the development is materially unchanged, this concern is equally true today as it was in 2014."
The governors sent a similar letter to the commission in 2013 urging them to reject the proposal. The current governor, Republican Chris Christie, supports the pipeline.
It has been hotly fought by environmental groups, who fear it will harm the fragile Pinelands and set a bad precedent for development there. They said it will cause a loss of some habitat, as well as increase runoff and erosion in an area home to an aquifer estimated to hold 17 trillion gallons of some of the nation's purest water.
Business and labor groups support the pipeline for the jobs it would create and because it would create a second source of fuel to the southern New Jersey region. The pipe would bring gas to the B.L. England power plant in Cape May County that's switching from coal to natural gas as part of an agreement with the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The gas company maintains that in addition to providing a cleaner fuel source to the power plant, the new pipeline would provide a second transmission vehicle for natural gas to thousands of customers in Atlantic and Cape May counties.
There is only one pipeline right now that takes gas to nearly 29,000 homes and businesses, which could be left out in the cold without a second means of getting gas to their homes if the existing pipeline fails.
The pipeline would run from Maurice River Township in Cumberland County to the power plant in Upper Township, mostly under or alongside existing roads.
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