Power Play at Delaware Water Gap and Appalachian Trail
“Fast Track” Review Masks Pre-Selection of Most Damaging Transmission Route
Washington, DC — Top administration officials have pre-approved a humongous power transmission corridor across some of the most scenic portions of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) which strongly condemned the move. Yesterday, the Obama administration announced a plan to “fast track” the Roseland Susquehanna Overland Transmission Project, along with six others – a move that PEER charges is a move to bypass proper environmental review designed to protect one of the most scenic areas of the entire national park system.
Announced as a “pilot project” and a boon to jobs, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and other top officials vowed to slash “red tape” to move the transmission corridors rapidly forward on a fast track basis.
“We do not object to fast-tracking projects as long as political appointees follow the laws protecting parks and the environment–but that hasn’t happened here,” stated PEER executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Using jobs as a pretext is misplaced. More jobs can be created by protecting parks than by trashing them.”
PEER contends that Secretary Salazar, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis and other Interior officials have met repeatedly with project proponents, PPL Electric Utilities of Allentown, Pennsylvania (PPL) and Public Service Electric and Gas Company of Newark, New Jersey (PSE&G), and have already approved a route for a new power line that will cut across the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The power line will be strung on 200 foot-tall towers that will permanently impair the scenic values of one of the most beautiful areas in the crowded Northeastern Corridor of the United States.
For at least three years, the NPS has been developing an environmental impact statement (EIS) to consider the PPL/PSE&G proposal, following the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The draft EIS is supposed to be announced to the public for comment before the end of 2011. The transmission line will bring power from PPL generating facilities at Berwick, Pennsylvania across the Delaware River and the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (NRA) to northern New Jersey.
As part of the deal, the draft EIS will NOT consider at least two alternatives that would lessen impacts to the park’s scenery (#6 and #7) but will include at least one alternative (#2B) demanded by the companies that is untenable from a safety perspective. The Secretary and the Director have unofficially committed to the companies that the NPS will select Alternative 2, the alternative preferred by the companies but which is the most damaging to the resources and scenery of the parks. In return, the companies have reportedly agreed to pay $60 million for land acquisition and administration inside and near the NRA.
“This is not ‘fast track,’ it is a short circuit in which political appointees are putting their thumbs on the scale to skew the review process,” Ruch added. “It is one thing to select an alternative after the conclusion of the NEPA process, but is something else to decide on the alternative before public comment has even begun.”