SANDY HOOK, NJ — Environmental Groups confront federal agencies for prematurely scheduling public hearings for the Liberty Natural Gas Deepwater Port License and demand that they immediately postpone them.  The Eastern Environmental Law Center sent a letter to the U.S. Coast Guard and the Maritime Administration detailing complaints that the information on the proposed project is incomplete and that the communities most affected by the project were stepped over for hearings. The letter was sent on behalf of Clean Ocean Action, Food & Water Watch, the New Jersey Environmental Federation, the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club, and the Raritan Riverkeeper.

The groups responded after learning that public hearings and review were being held despite a December 30th, 2010 letter from the Maritime Administration and Coast Guard (the federal agencies responsible for licensing the facility) informing Liberty Natural Gas that their application was incomplete and that the agencies have “stopped the clock” on any further federal review.

The project calls for a permit to install and operate a Liquefied Natural Gas facility 16 miles offshore of Asbury Park with a 54 mile long pipeline running through Raritan Bay, through Perth Amboy, and up to Linden, NJ.  The federal agencies’ letter stated that they “required additional project information” in order to begin environmental review. Specifically, the Coast Guard stated that Liberty Natural Gas failed to submit sufficient information regarding the purpose, need, and alternatives for the proposed project.  The Maritime Administration added that the company’s financial statements on their ability to pay for the construction, operation, and decommissioning of the facility were similarly insufficient.

Despite these strong statements on the inadequate nature of the pending application, the agencies issued notice on Tuesday to hold public hearings to officially start the environmental review process.  These hearings are the first of three opportunities the public will have to voice concerns and oppositions and will be held on February 8th, 9th and 10th in Rockaway Park, NY, Long Branch, NJ, and Edison NJ (respectively).

“Our coalition of environmental groups is simply asking that the Coast Guard and the Maritime Administration follow the rules – if the agencies determine there is insufficient information for the federal government to move forward on environmental review, the review shouldn’t move forward.  We ask that these agencies wait until all information is present and accounted, so that the interested and affected public can meaningfully participate in the decision-making process.” said Sean Dixon, Coastal Policy Attorney for Clean Ocean Action.

The groups also asked that the hearings be located in the towns where this project’s direct impacts will be: Perth Amboy, NJ, Asbury Park, NJ, and Staten Island, NY, instead of the proposed hearing locations that are each located miles away from the affected communities.  “These towns will be directly affected by this project and must be afforded the opportunity to comment on a project that will literally run through their backyards,” Dixon added.

“It’s hypocritical of our federal government to ‘stop the clock’ to ensure that they have all the facts, but we have to make do with the shoddy, incomplete application,” said Cindy Zipf.  “Liberty Natural Gas is a ‘lose, lose’ project for We The People, and this is just another example. Fortunately, Governor Christie has promised to veto this reckless scam,” added Zipf, the Executive Director of Clean Ocean Action.

In addition to the procedural failures of the agencies in charge of the review of the project, "this pipeline is unnecessary - it is the wrong project, in the wrong place, at the wrong time,” notes Jeff Tittel, Executive Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.  “We have plenty of gas in the US and we do not need a pipeline that goes through the most densely populated portions of the state putting people at risk. This project supports continued fossil fuel use at a time when we should be investing in renewable energy and green technologies instead," Tittel added.

"We are calling on the Coast Guard to hold public hearings on the Liberty Natural Gas LNG project in the affected communities, particularly in Perth Amboy where the proposed pipeline route is near schools, commuter rail lines, housing developments and oil tank farms. To allow for meaningful input from residents, we are also requesting that one hearing be held in Spanish, as well as a postponement of any hearings until we have had a chance to review a complete application," said Karina Wilkinson, Organizer for Food & Water Watch.

If the federal government believes in a good, transparent government, they should delay these hearings until all of the information is made available to the public and not expect the us to speak when we are kept in the dark, said Dave Pringle, Campaign Director for the New Jersey Environmental Federation.

“Federal law requires that the Coast Guard and the Maritime Administration provide the public with complete and accurate information about the environmental and health effects of the proposed project,” stated attorney Kevin Pflug of the Eastern Environmental Law Center.  Pflug also noted that, “It is unreasonable to hold public hearings before the company has shown that the natural gas port and pipeline is even needed in the first place.”