As oil and gas companies race to plan more pipelines to criss-cross America, conservationists are similarly ramping up their efforts to resist the environmentally destructive projects, and one such controversy in New Jersey is heating up quickly. The planned Pilgrim Pipeline would carry crude oil back and forth along the 178 miles from Albany, New York, to New Jersey’s Linden Harbor. The pipeline’s proposed route cuts through forests and a drinking water reservoir, prompting members of the Ramapough Lunaape Nation to organize a resistance camp, similar to the months-long backlash against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock, North Dakota. While that struggle has been long and difficult, the Ramapough Lunaape in New Jersey will face a different and perhaps even more challenging fight against corporate interests, for a number of reasons.
As is often the case with resistance efforts led by indigenous people, the Ramapough Lunaape must first defend their right to protest. Last week, the New Jersey town of Mahwah issued summonses against the protesters for setting up a camp and erecting protest signs without permits, even though the activity is all taking place on tribal land. One of the key obstacles for the Ramapough Lunaape is that their nation is not recognized by the federal government, so they are not protected in the same way. The Ramapough Lunaape Nation is instead only recognized at the state level in New Jersey and New York. It doesn’t take an expert to understand how this issue will complicate their fight against the proposed pipeline.
The tribe has made numerous attempts to gain federal recognition, but those efforts have all failed. One such bid, in 1993, was struck down after Donald Trump (yep, that guy) campaigned against the nation’s recognition in order to eliminate the possibility of competition for his casino in Atlantic City. The tribe hasn’t given up, though, and an ongoing petition is still active to collect signature in support of adding the Ramapough Lunaape Nation to the list of federal recognized tribes.
The Pilgrim Pipeline has been in planning for more than two years, and local communities along its proposed route have been protesting the whole time. The planned route would loosely follow the New York State Thruway and I-287 and then through North Jersey’s environmentally sensitive Highlands. Protesters are worried about the pipeline’s proximity to the Highlands reservoirs, which provide water to 5 million New Jersey residents. Much like other pipeline projects across the country, the developers Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings have pledged to go “full steam ahead” despite the environmental and public health concerns.