DRBC meeting ends with more songs, chants

Today's meeting of the Delaware River Basin Commission, which was disrupted by natural gas pipeline protesters who shouted down the commission and refused to let business continue, with more songs and chants.

Commission chair Kelly Heffner, a water chief with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, offered to open the meeting to 30 more minutes of public comments. The commission had already listened to about 90 minutes of comments, and then concluded its business actions with commission members making motions and voting on unrelated matters while the audience continued to chant.

But the group of about 70 protesters instead walked to the front of the room,  holding signs and singing "This Land is Your Land," They chanted "this is what democracy looks like."

The activists maintain that the commission has the authority to oversee natural gas pipeline construction in the river basin. They contend that the effects -- including clear-cutting of forests, erosion and soil compaction -- are sever enough to warrant the action.

A petition filed by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and more than 50 other environmental groups notes that that four gas-pipeline projects have been built since 2011 and that seven more were planned.

The commission has concluded that its rules exempt natural gas pipeline projects from oversight, with limited exceptions.

The protesters came to Wednesday’s meeting hoping to persuade the commissioners — representatives of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York state, and the federal government — to do more.

Heffner later said, “It’s a great system that lets people come and provide public input. The fact that they didn’t take advantage of the last half-hour was their choice.”

Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum said there was no point in commenting more when “we continue to have a situation where the commission … is simply not listening. We’re fed up.”

In a related action, State Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D., Chester) last month introduced three pipeline-oversight bills.

They would require the Department of Environmental Protection to ensure that residents were notified of proposed projects and to post public documents on its website. The bills, supported by three area Republican senators — John Rafferty Jr., Ted Erickson, and Charles McIlhinney — also would require pipeline operators to replace affected land under agriculture or conservation easements.

Dinniman said he wanted to make sure "sure our communities are not treated as an afterthought as natural gas companies install new pipelines to get their product to market as quickly and cheaply as possible."