Advocates Call for Halt of Pinelands Nominations To Protect the Integrity of Commissions
Environment New Jersey
Trenton – The Senate Judiciary Committee will take up the governor’s effort to replace two members of the Pinelands Commission because they voted “no” on the Pinelands pipeline deal which the Pinelands Commission defeated by an evenly-divided vote last January. On Thursday, October 16, the Judiciary Committee will begin considering the nominations of Robert Barr to replace Robert Jackson and Denis Roohr to replace D’Arcy Rohan Green on the Pinelands Commission. The governor made these nominations last April, but the Senate took no action for six months after public and media criticism of the move.
A coalition of advocates for the Pinelands is calling on Senate President Sweeney and the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to deny these nominations, or at least to hold the nominations until after the Pinelands pipeline issue is definitively resolved.
“These nominations are a transparent effort to pack the Pinelands Commission with reliable ‘yes’ votes for a pipeline deal that directly violates the protections of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan,” states Carleton Montgomery, executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. “It is up to the members of the Judiciary Committee to stop this assault on the Pinelands and good government.”
“We need the Judiciary Committee to reject or block these appointments to the Pinelands Commission. The Governor is deliberately trying to stack the Commission with political cronies. This threatens the integrity and independence of the Pinelands Commission not just now but in the future. In the 40 years since the passage of the Pinelands Act this is really putting the Commission and the role the Commission plays in protecting the region in jeopardy with overt politicization and this could lead to dismantling and rollbacks of those protections,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the NJ Sierra Club.
The governor made the nominations shortly after the Pinelands Commission voted down the original pipeline deal and South Jersey Gas made clear it intended to get the pipeline built despite the Commission’s January 2014 “no” vote. One of the two Commissioners the governor seeks to replace, Ms. Rohan Green, was put on the Commission by the governor himself just two years earlier and was a long-time and active supporter of the governor.
“Replacing people for obeying the law and voting their conscience sets a horrible precedent and puts the whole region at risk. This is about much more than the Pinelands and any one project. The Judiciary Committee needs to put a check on Governor Christie, his inappropriate interference and bullying. Send the message that Governors and legislators need to respect the integrity of independent commissions for doing their job,” said David Pringle, New Jersey Campaign Director for Clean Water Action.
“Given the circumstances, it is clear the governor seeks to punish and remove people who served the public with integrity because they voted to enforce the clear protections of the Pinelands rules – protections they are bound to implement faithfully and consistently,” states David Moore, board chair of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. “Replacing such public servants at the behest of two private corporations with development plans that violate the Pinelands laws is not good government. It is a direct attack on the Pinelands protections.”
The pipeline is proposed to bring natural gas to the BL England power plant on the shore of Great Egg Harbor in Upper Township, Cape May County. The power plant is owned by Rockland Capital Energy Investments LLC, a Texas-based energy investment fund. The deal presented to the Pinelands Commission would have had the Commission and the Board of Public Utilities sign a memorandum of agreement authorizing South Jersey Gas to build the pipeline through the Pinelands Forest Area in violation of Pinelands regulations. Even though the pipeline would supply gas only to the power plant and only benefit Rockland Capital, the BPU is letting South Jersey Gas charge its customers for 60% of the cost of building the pipeline, on the premise that the pipeline could also be used to supply gas customers if the existing transmission line somehow failed.
“This is a clear attempt by Governor Christie to stack the Pinelands Commission and kick off appointees who voted against the pipeline,” said Doug O’Malley, Director of Environment New Jersey. “The Legislature should say no to this Pinelands payback scheme, and reject these nominees.”
“Governor Christie is trying to shove a fracking pipeline through the Pinelands, and by pushing to replace commissioners who opposed this reckless project, he is threatening democracy itself. The Judiciary Committee must stand up to the bullying of Governor Christie by rejecting his nominees, and send a message we need a Governor that cares about New Jersey, not national political ambitions,” said Jim Walsh, NJ Director of Food & Water Watch.
“The political retribution against two Pinelands Commissioners by this administration is shocking. New Jersey families deserve better, and we are hopeful the Senate Judiciary Committee does not approve the two nominees. Approving this kind of maneuver would be a devastating to public confidence in our government, and so to future generations who rely on us to care for New Jersey’s resources,” said Ed Potosnak, Executive Director, New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.
The coalition is calling on those who value the Pinelands and good government to contact their state Senator about this important issue.