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As Feds Stifle Public Comment Process, Citizens Rally Against Proposed Compressor Station in Franklin

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Only Accepts Comments Behind Closed Doors
Proposed Compressor Station
Neighbors are concerned about the Williams Transco corporation's proposal to build a gas compressor station in Franklin. Williams Transco

FRANKLIN, NJ—On May 2, around 200 residents of Franklin Township and surrounding areas joined representatives of environmental organizations at an “Open Mic Rally” opposing the proposal to build a gas compressor station ten miles outside of New Brunswick.

They were joined by a busload of residents from Princeton, and other opponents hailing from communities including Montgomery and Sayreville to express their concerns about air and water pollution, and the risk of explosions, leaks, and fires associated with the controversial proposal.

The event was held at the Franklin Community/Senior Center shortly before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) hosted a required session to hear from local residents and township officials regarding the compressor station.

FERC did not allow any open comments or a public forum, and unlike most public hearings, attendees were required to give their comments behind closed doors or in written form.  In years past, FERC held traditional forums to take testimony where reporters and other concerned citizens could witness all of the statements.

The “Open Mic Rally” provided an opportunity for the residents to deliver their remarks in public and for media to report on their comments.

Williams Transco, as part of the Northeast Supply Enhancement project, is proposing to add about 35 miles of pipeline and new compression to its existing Transco pipeline system, including the new gas compressor station in Franklin Township.

The company plans to transport natural gas from Pennsylvania to New York and the project will not supply gas to New Jersey.

Williams Transco has a history of violations including 34 environmental violations since 2000, leading to penalties of $8,665,744.

Local officials at the press conference included Assemblyman Joe Danielsen, who represents Franklin, New Brunswick and three other communities in the State Assembly, as well as Somerset County Freeholder Mark Caliguire, Franklin Mayor Phil Kramer, and Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert.

US Senator Cory Booker and Congressman Frank Pallone sent statements.

Mayor Kramer talked about the long term effect of the compressor station and the lack of plans for renewable energy.

Junior Romero, the Central New Jersey Organizer at Food & Water Watch, addressed the crowd to point out that Governor Phil Murphy can act to stop the project by denying a crucial water quality permit before June 23, similar to the action taken by the administration of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in April.

Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, spoke about the battle between the fossil fuels of the past and the green revolution of the future.

Robert Laumbach, a professor at Rutgers and medical doctor, talked about the importance of asking questions about levels of exposure to pollutants that can result from the proposal.

Laumbach pointed out that the standards for air pollution have been lowered over the years and that repeated exposure to pollutants will impact the health of residents.

Two dozen union members with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and Laborers' International Union of North America (LiUNA) held signs in support of the NESE project.

They brought along a truck equipped with a large video screen and blasting music that drowned out the sound of the speakers at the rally.

“The people have to do everything they can possibly do to stop fossil fuel projects from going through because they hurt people, animals, and the environment," said Barbara Cuthbert, a member of the Franklin Township Task Force, which was created by the Township Council in February 2017 to keep the Council & residents informed about the permitting process and concerns.

"FERC and state agencies are only required to have the companies live up to certain standards, which are not strong enough to truly protect us," said Cuthbert.

She became concerned when the potential source of the gas came to light, and then she learned about the dangers of natural gas compressor stations and pipelines.

Cuthbert and many members of the public oppose the project because they say it will encourage more fracking, a dangerous type of gas drilling that is prevalent in Pennsylvania and tied to water contamination.

Though this project starts in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania where gas is fracked, the company says the source of the gas could come from many places.

May 14 is the deadline for anyone to submit comments to FERC.  Food & Water Watch is also encouraging opponents of the project to contact Governor Murphy and ask him to direct the Department of Environmental Protection to deny the required water quality permit.