Campaign against new pipelines launched

Organizers of ReThink Energy NJ say a poll shows voters prefer move to renewable energy

TRENTON – Environmental groups began a campaign Thursday opposing construction of new pipelines and supporting renewable energy development, saying a new poll shows that’s the direction New Jersey voters want.

The launch of ReThink Energy NJ comes as more than a half-dozen new pipelines are proposed around the state, including ones being fought by residents, environmental groups and local elected officials. Targets include a South Jersey Gas natural-gas line in the Pinelands region, a PennEast natural-gas line in Hunterdon and Mercer counties and a Pilgrim oil pipeline in the state’s northeast area.

Results of a poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University commissioned by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation found almost 70 percent of registered voters are somewhat or very concerned about the pipelines’ potential impact. Respondents were with nearly twice as likely to see them as threatening rather than beneficial.

“New Jersey voters strongly agree that New Jersey needs to rethink the energy path that we’re on,” said Tom Gilbert, campaign director for the Conservation Foundation and Rethink Energy NJ.

Almost 80 percent said the state should invest more in renewable energy rather than fossil fuels, with nearly as many saying the state should require 80 percent of its electricity to come from renewable sources by 2050. The current goal is 22 percent by 2020.

“This doesn’t appear to be a partisan issue,” said Krista Jenkins, executive director of FDU’s PublicMind poll. “We do see sizable numbers of Republicans, Democrats and independents aligning themselves with pro-environmental policies.”

“There are many things that are challenges in the great place that we have, but one of the joys is having an affordable, plentiful source of freshwater,” said Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Essex. “I tell you that as the rest of this country and the world become parched, people will beat a path to New Jersey as an economic juggernaut if we don’t do anything to blow it.”

“The dilemma of our time is that change is not being accomodated,” said former Gov. Jim Florio. He added it’s “terrible” that the state hasn’t moved faster in the last five years to support offshore windmills. “We’re applying old policies to new problems, and that simply doesn’t work very well.”

Much of the focus of the campaign’s Statehouse launch event was on the PennEast pipeline, a $1 billion proposal that would move natural gas from northeastern Pennsylvania to a Transco pipeline interconnection near Pennington in Mercer County.

The director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, Jeff Tittel, questioned the need for a new campaign on an issue that some 40 groups, including his, have worked on for years.

“They’re offering a campaign that’s media without organizing or substance behind it,” Tittel said. “When we started working on these issues, fighting pipelines and fighting power lines, we asked groups like them to join, and they didn’t. My sense this is more about doing a splash than really strategy in turning New Jersey from fossil fuels to clean energy.”