Business groups spoke in favor of the first phase of the PennEast pipeline during a virtual hearing Wednesday night, while residents and environmental groups came out against the natural gas project.
The PennEast 36-inch pipeline's Phase 1 would stretch 68 miles through Pennsylvania's Carbon, Luzerne, Monroe and Northampton counties, ending in Bethlehem Township.
Phase 2, which is being held up by a legal battle, would continue into Bucks County, then Hunterdon County in New Jersey and end in Mercer County, north of Trenton.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection hearing was held for testimony on permits related to erosion control and obstruction on waterways, but people calling into the virtual meeting addressed everything from invasive species to economic impact.
"Affordable energy is the bedrock of our economy," said Christina Coleman, speaking for the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia. Carl Marrara of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association said "steady and predictable prices" for energy will help industry.
Patrick Henderson of Marcellus Shale Coalition said the pipeline would provide "a net benefit to habitat." Kevin Sunday of the PA Chamber of Business and Industry said the project would lead to more than $1 billion in economic impact and create thousands of jobs.
Residents and representatives of environmental groups said the economic projections are not supported, while the environmental impacts could be profound.
"There's no public purpose and need for this," said Robert Kaiser of Luzerne County. Kaiser said the pipeline will go through his backyard, and he questioned the industry groups' statistics. Kaiser said he feels the goal of the project is to export gas.
Ned Heindel of Williams Township questioned the financial projections behind the pipeline, and said land would be chopped up and waterways obstructed, resulting in permanent damage. Heindel and his wife Linda recently donated 77 acres to Northampton County for use as a public park.
Jack Byerly of the Clean Air Council, a Philadelphia-based group, said Phase 2 of the pipeline might never be built. Other people calling in said Phase 1 in Pennsylvania might become a stand-alone project, if it is constructed, and as such, should be reviewed as a new proposal.
In addition to the pipeline's potential effects on waterways and natural habitat, some who testified objected to the virtual format and limits on testimony.
Maya van Rossum of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network said holding a hearing during a pandemic and after a holiday did not allow for time to prepare. She said the hearing process was "deliberately organized to undermine opposition."
Even DEP moderator Colleen Connolly's reminders that speakers were approaching the three-minute limit drew fire.
"I hate being interrupted," said Sharon Furlong of Bucks Environmental Action.
Later, when some callers appeared to have technical difficulties, Connolly kept the hearing going to allow more testimony.
"PennEast is an unnecessary project," said state Sen. Katie Muth, a Democrat in Montgomery County. The project is outside of her district, but she objected because of the risk to drinking water and the Department of Environmental Protection's process. "They've lost the public trust," she said of the DEP.
Robin Eisman also raised the water issue, saying the pipeline could threaten the City of Bethlehem's water supply. The Bethlehem Authority's watershed is in Monroe and Carbon counties.
Cliff Cole of Quakertown said pipelines provide a route for invasive plant species that will afflict Pennsylvania's native flora. Charles Ogle said non-native trees will not provide food for insects or nesting sites for birds. He objected to allowing PennEast to intrude upon riparian buffers, the vegetation along a stream.
"Our environment should not have to pay for PennEast's growth," Ogle said.
Union workers, including members of Pipeliners Local 798, said they would welcome the project because it would bring jobs.
PennEast is a five-company group that includes UGI Corp.
Information on the PennEast project and permit proposals is available on the DEP website.