New Report Maps Out Power Players and Revolving Door Ties Behind PennEast Pipeline
New report by Public Accountability Initiative examines PennEast lobbyists, powerful corporate networks, dubious motives for pipeline, and conflicted regulators
BUFFALO, NY – The powerful forces pushing a controversial proposed fracked gas pipeline in Pennsylvania and New Jersey include five registered lobbyists with positions in New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s transition, with one being a former advisor to Senator Cory Booker, while two of the pipeline owners in New Jersey have powerful ties to influential entities in that state, including the Chamber of Commerce and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, according to a new report.
The report, from the nonprofit watchdog group Public Accountability Initiative, is the fifth in a series that examines the power relations behind a range of controversial pipeline projects in the United States.
The proposed PennEast Pipeline, owned by a consortium of five fossil fuel and utilities companies, has over a dozen revolving door lobbyists in New Jersey and Pennsylvania that have ties to powerful state politicians – including Governor Phil Murphy, Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez, and New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney – and to regulatory entities, such as the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission and the Pennsylvania DEP.
Key PennEast backers also gave over $23,000 to the Murphy gubernatorial campaign, with over half of that coming from two top New Jersey Resources executives – including CEO Larry Downes – and two pipeline lobbyists. New Jersey Resources owns 20% of PennEast.
“Governor Murphy has indicated that he’s willing to stand up to oil and gas interests,” said Derek Seidman, a research analyst at PAI and author of the report. “But here’s a big fossil fuel project where the companies are positioning themselves to sway him. So what will he do?”
The report also shows that nearly all of the 2017 quarterly reports and presentations of South Jersey Industries, a PennEast owner, emphasized the pipeline’s “FERC level returns” – the higher returns that come from an interstate pipeline – and said little about the need for gas supply. SJI also stressed the pipeline’s “expansion potential” to investors. Critics of the pipeline, including the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel, have accused PennEast of being motivated to build the pipeline because of the higher rates of return it would bring in as a FERC-regulated, interstate pipeline.
In addition, the report points out concerns about conflicts of interests at crucial regulatory bodies. For example, the executive director of the Delaware River Basin Commission, which still must approve the pipeline, is a former top executive of a wastewater corporation that belongs to a powerful pro-fracking business coalition whose members include a PennEast owner and shipper. Two former members of the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission and a former Pennsylvania DEP official are also now lobbyists for PennEast.
“The forces behind this controversial pipeline are very powerful, with influential ties to politicians, regulatory bodies, and civil society groups” said Seidman. “This should alarm people, especially since the pipeline owners’ motives may be more about profit than need.”
The report also highlights a Koch brothers-backed lobbying group that’s pushing for the pipeline at the federal level, as well as other unsettling ties between PennEast owners and lobbyists to politicians and a range of powerful state entities.
To read the full report, go to: https://public-accountability.org/2018/02/the-power-behind-the-pipelines-penneast-pipeline