After securing federal approval, a company that wants to build a 124-mile gas pipeline found itself blocked at the state level on Friday – Earth Day – when New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) denied water quality permits for the project.

The DEC’s chief permit administrator, John Ferguson, wrote in the rejection that the application for the Constitution pipeline did not adequately address concerns about the project’s compliance with water quality standards.

“The Application fails in a meaningful way to address the significant water resource impacts that could occur from this Project and has failed to provide sufficient information to demonstrate compliance with New York State water quality standards.”

News sources report that officials in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration said there was a “lack of detailed project plans” in the application, and that the developer intentionally provided incomplete responses to DEC questions.

A lightning rod

The pipeline, which would have connected Pennsylvania fracking sites to a network of pipelines, has become a lightning rod for activists opposed to the reliance of fossil fuel due to its contribution to climate change. ReThink Energy NJ expressed jubilation over the state’s decision and said that it demonstrated the “considerable authority that state governments hold in regulating potentially dangerous pipeline projects.”

The group urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) – which approved the Constitution pipeline – to deny pending permits for another pipeline. “The PennEast Pipeline is not needed, would cause enormous damage to water and other natural resources, and would tether us to more dirty fossil fuels as an energy source,” said the group’s Tom Gilbert. “We should instead be developing clean, renewable sources of energy that create more jobs and healthier communities for our families."

Higher energy costs

The American Petroleum Industry (API) predicted that Cuomo’s decision would cost the state thousands of jobs and result in bigger energy bills for residents.

“This decision impacts not only the residents of New York, but also the families and businesses in the surrounding states whose consumers currently pay the highest energy costs in the country,” according to a statement by the group. “This region needs robust and reliable energy infrastructure built to supply the clean, reliable and affordable natural gas from the nearby Marcellus shale to fuel their communities.”

The William company, the pipeline developer, had already purchased supplies for the project in anticipation of a permit approval. Spokesman Christopher Stockton said company may appeal the state’s decision to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A "turning of the tide"?

Observers are calling the denial the Cuomo administration’s most significant environmental decision since last year’s ban on fracking.

The Sierra Club’s Roger Downs said Cuomo’s rejection of the pipeline represents a “turning of the tide,” that could inspire similar decision by other states as they “begin to put the protection of water and our climate before flawed energy projects that do not serve the public interest.”