- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

New Jersey utilities regulators ruled Wednesday that a proposed natural gas pipeline through the ecologically sensitive Pinelands region can be built without local approvals.

The state Board of Public Utilities determined that South Jersey Gas does not need to get local zoning approvals from towns through which the pipeline would run.

The plan still needs final approval from the state Pinelands Commission, which narrowly rejected it in January 2014.

The proposed pipeline is at the center of one of the biggest jobs-vs.-environment clashes in recent New Jersey history.

It has been hotly fought by environmental groups, who fear it will harm the fragile Pinelands, and set a bad precedent for future development there. They said it will cause a loss of some habitat, as well as increase runoff and erosion in an area home to an aquifer estimated to hold 17 trillion gallons of some of the nation’s purest water.

Business and labor groups support the pipeline for the jobs it would create and because it would create a second source of fuel to the southern New Jersey region. The pipe would bring gas to the B.L. England power plant in Cape May County power plant that’s switching from coal to natural gas as part of an agreement with the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The gas company maintains that in addition to providing a cleaner fuel source to the power plant, the new pipeline would provide a second transmission vehicle for natural gas to thousands of customers in Atlantic and Cape May counties. There is only one pipeline right now that takes gas to nearly 29,000 homes and businesses, which could be left out in the cold without a second means of getting gas to their homes if the existing pipeline fails.

The pipeline would run from Maurice River Township in Cumberland County to the power plant in Upper Township and would run mostly under or alongside existing roads.

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Follow Wayne Parry at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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