The expansion of the TGP pipeline in NJ can still be halted by Gov. Phil Murphy

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For the past two years, communities in North Jersey have organized to stop a dangerous pipeline expansion that threatens public safety, clean water and clean air. Despite public outcry and pending legal appeals, federal regulators recently cleared the company to begin construction.

Despite that setback, Governor Phil Murphy still has the power to stop this dangerous plan.

In the summer of 2020, Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company LLC, a subsidiary of Texas-based Kinder Morgan, applied for permits for a massive expansion of the existing pipeline system that runs through North Jersey. TGP plans to triple the size of its compressor station at Wantage and build a new station in the Highlands Protected Region of West Milford, on a site just 400 meters from Monksville Reservoir, which provides clean drinking water to millions of New Jersey residents. The project will route larger volumes of pressurized fracked gas through an aging pipeline system to Westchester County, New York.

In the two years since these permit applications were filed, community residents and environmentalists across the state have called on Murphy to stop this reckless and unnecessary expansion. Seven municipalities facing the risks of this scheme have passed resolutions opposing the project, and more than 70 health professionals have written to the governor about the health and safety risks posed by compressor stations and the danger they pose to surrounding communities.

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Earlier this year, an accident at TGP’s Wantage compressor station blew an uncontrolled, toxic plume of gas into the air for 70 minutes, prompting numerous 911 calls and residents scrambling inside. This event was frightening but not exceptional; according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, TGP had 111 significant incidents involving their pipelines between 2006 and 2017, resulting in $89,815,380 in property damage and 19 federal enforcement actions.

Much of TGP’s pipeline is 65 years old, 15 years past its useful life. Still, TGP wants to triple the amount of fractionated gas pushed through this pipeline, endangering the health and safety of residents. Leaks, explosions and accidents along the pipeline are to be expected. One such event occurred along this Pennsylvania pipeline in July, when a burst pipeline caused an explosion and fire that burned five acres before it could be contained.

Murphy regularly publishes lofty rhetoric about the urgent need to address the climate crisis. But a serious climate agenda would mean stopping new fossil fuel projects; instead, the Murphy administration’s Department of Environmental Protection has approved permit after permit. Now only one permit remains and TGP has received the green light to start construction. In all that time, the governor has never publicly acknowledged that this project exists at all.

Nevertheless, Murphy can still fulfill his environmental obligations and stop this project. In his first term, he championed his Energy Master Plan to address what he called our state’s “age-old addiction to fossil fuels,” with a goal of 100% clean energy by 2040. More recently, the governor signed an Executive Order called for a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030, and a requirement for builders to consider the impacts of climate change if they want their projects approved. New Jersey is already off track to meet these goals, and things could get worse if Murphy continues to approve dirty energy expansion plans. Seven major new fossil fuel projects have been proposed in our state that could cause a substantial increase in climate pollution.

With his promises to ramp up offshore wind power, along with the introduction of the nation’s first climate curriculum for public schools and the signing of the nation’s toughest environmental justice bill, Murphy can leave a strong legacy as a climate champion. But he can’t have both. If Murphy allows TGP to continue with this pipeline expansion, he will be sacrificing the health and safety of his constituents and our shared responsibility to quickly address the climate crisis.

Murphy can still stop this project. But we’re running out of time.

Brian D. Scanlan is a former mayor and alderman of Wyckoff.

Sam DiFalco is an organizer at the advocacy organization Food & Water Watch.

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