Water Gap Transmission Corridor Legally Vulnerable
Concessions to Industry and Skewed Review Will Fuel Lawsuits
Washington, DC — A plan to carve an electric transmission mega-corridor through the most scenic stretches of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail will be crippled by legal challenges, according to comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Ironically, moves by the Obama administration to accommodate the project sponsors have created the basis for successful lawsuits to block it.
The Roseland Susquehanna Overland Transmission Project, sponsored by PPL Electric Utilities of Allentown, Pennsylvania (PPL) and Public Service Electric and Gas Company of Newark, New Jersey (PSE&G), will expand import of coal-fired electricity to the Eastern seaboard. To accomplish this, they seek to string 200 foot-tall towers carrying high-capacity electric lines from Susquehanna, Pennsylvania to Roseland, New Jersey cutting through Delaware Water Gap and the Appalachian Trail.
In addition to putting the project on a “fast track” to reduce the review period, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis and other top officials committed to the companies that their preferred alternative will be chosen despite the fact that it is the most damaging to the resources and scenery of the parks. In return, the companies have reportedly agreed to pay “mitigation” money for land acquisition and administration inside and near the parklands.
In order to facilitate this deal, these officials then directed that the environmental review be manipulated to endorse the agreed-upon outcome by –
- Excluding consideration of reasonable alternatives put forward by the parks. Critically, a revised route that required little, if any, crossing of parklands was not presented to the public;
- Inserting a non-viable alternative which violates industry safety standards to give a phony impression that alternatives were considered; and
- Violating the Park Service’s own rules by not revealing the agency’s preferred alternative.
PEER contends that these deviations leave the approved project open to a lawsuit brought under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in which a flawed review invalidates any decision. “This environmental review has become a scam,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization has brought numerous NEPA suits. “By dealing from the bottom of the deck, these officials have built a house of cards that will not withstand the litigation that is sure to come.”
Perhaps even more daunting is the legal challenge arising from the official slight of hand declaring that the transmission corridor will not impair the scenic values of one of the most beautiful areas in the entire park system. PEER argues this highly questionable assertion will not survive legal scrutiny, either.
“Delaware Water Gap is our Grand Canyon in the East. Can you imagine stringing an electrical corridor across the Grand Canyon?” asked New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe. “These magnificent vistas were entrusted to these officials to preserve for future generations. They do not have the power to give them away.”