While national attention is focused on the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, another project expanding on the natural gas revolution in Pennsylvania remains unheralded in the national media.

That would be the proposed 36-inch wide, 120-mile underground PennEast pipeline that would originate near the Pocono Mountains, cut through eastern Pennsylvania and extend across the Delaware River into Hopewell Township, New Jersey. Energy consumers residing in those parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey received some good news just a few days ago when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released an environmental impact statement that said the project would not harm the environment.

When it's completed, the PennEast pipeline will provide energy consumers with access to the rich deposits of natural gas available within the Marcellus Shale formation that runs through parts of West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

The fed's positive environmental impact statement giving the green light to PennEast is not what anti-energy activists and their allies in government wanted to hear. But it now appears that construction will begin next year. Once the pipeline is up and running, the natural gas it delivers will translate into lower energy bills, accelerated economic activity and more jobs, according to a study from Concentric Energy Advisors. Energy consumers will save hundreds of millions of dollars in energy costs assuming the project goes forward, the study says.

PennEast began as a consortium of companies that includes: NJR Pipeline Company, PSE&G Power, SJI Midstream, Southern Company Gas, Spectra Energy Partners and UGI Energy Services.

In March, PSE&G, which is N.J.'s largest utility, announced it was withdrawing from the project. A spokesman for PennEast attributed PSE&G's decision to "normal business activity" while opponents of the project took it as a sign the project has faltered. But that hardly appears to be the case. PennEast has resisted pressure from green groups to reroute the project through Bucks County, Penn. and is moving ahead with its original plans.

A complete overview of the proposed route is available here. The economic impact statement the companies have released is very telling as it shows that consumers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey would have saved almost $900 million in energy costs if the pipeline had been operating during the severe winter of 2014.

But what about the opposing side? Why are environmentalists so dead-set against the project?

In comments submitted to FERC, The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, a nonprofit group based in Bristol, Penn., said the project "will have a damaging effect on the health and vitality of the Delaware River watershed." The pipeline will also intrude upon pristine space and undermine the market value of homes in the area, Riverkeeper argues in its comments.

The environmental group also sees a strong potential "for chemical contamination of water resources." But more than anything else, the Riverkeeper is scandalized by the specter of natural gas production. The pipeline "is both a product of the development of the Marcellus Shale and other shales and a catalyst for further gas development."

With the substantial financial backing of the William Penn Foundation, a private charity headquartered in Philadelphia, the Riverkeeper has been spearheading a very aggressive anti-pipeline campaign. All across Mercer County, N.J., the environmental group has plastered signs on roadways that read: "Stop the PennEast Pipeline"; "Protect the Environment! Stop the Pipeline!"; "STOP the Fracking Pipelines" and "STOP the Pipeline: Save the Sourlands."

In 2015, the Riverkeeper Network received $914,000 in grant money from the William Penn Foundation. Here in 2017, the Riverkeeper Network has received about $1.4 million in grants from the foundation.

Tom Shepstone, who operates the Natural Gas Now blog, sees the Riverkeeper Network serving as a conduit for anti-energy activists at the William Penn Foundation. Since the foundation's tax status restricts its ability to participate in political debates, it puts up money for the Riverkeeper Network to do its bidding, he explains.

But the despite the best efforts of politically well-connected environmental activists, it now seems clear that PennEast will move forward.

"The significance of the [environmental impact statement] is that FERC is green-lighting the project, and they're the agency that does all the heavy lifting," he said in an email.

The PennEast Pipeline Company has released a statement that applauds FERC's final environmental impact statement while also rebutting the arguments of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and other opponents of the project.

"Federal regulators have once again determined that PennEast Pipeline can deliver enormous benefits for the region, including lower electric and gas bills, thousands of jobs, enhanced reliability, and direct access to one of the most abundant and affordable supplies of clean-burning natural gas in all of North America – while doing so with little impact on the environment," Dat Tran, chair of the board of managers for PennEast Pipeline Company, said in the press statement. "The thorough review conducted by federal regulators assessed impacts on everything from safety to water resources to air quality and wildlife. Their finding is a clear win for the region, business competitiveness, economic growth and job creation."

The full statement from PennEast can be read here.

Kevin Mooney (@KevinMooneyDC) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is an investigative reporter in Washington, D.C. who writes for several national publications.

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