Bridgegate in the Pines, Part Deux: Gov. Christie Fires Pinelands Commissioner Chairman Lohbauer

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Environment New Jersey Research and Policy Center

Trenton – Today, Pinelands Commission Chairman Mark Lohbauer was announced as being replaced as Chairman by Gov. Christie’s Administration. The new Chairman of the Pinelands Commission was announced as Sean Earlen. Both members of the Commissioner are Republicans and both will still serve as Pinelands Commissioners.

Chairman Lohbauer, a gubernatorial appointee in 2011, had previously served as a Camden County Board of Chosen Freeholder and served as the Assistant State Treasure. In January 2014, he opposed the South Jersey Pipeline, leading to the 7-7 deadlocked vote that blocked South Jersey Gas’ Memorandum of Agreement to allow the construction of the gas pipeline through 15 miles of the Pinelands National Reserve.

The newly appointed Chairman, Sean Earlen, is Burlington County’s representative on the Pinelands Commission and was appointed in 2011. He also currently serves as the Mayor of Lumberton, and on the Board of Directors for the New Jersey Building Authority. He works as a vice president at Constructural Dynamics. In January 2014, Commissioner Earlen voted in favor of the South Jersey Pipeline.

Below is a statement from Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey:

“The other shoe finally dropped. Two years after Chairman Lohbauer bravely opposed South Jersey Gas’ pipeline, he was fired for not toeing Gov. Christie’s party line. Chairman Lobhauer’s integrity and independence were top rate, and it’s the public loss not to have him chairing the gavel.

The South Jersey Gas pipeline saga has become Bridgegate in the Pines. Gov. Christie has worked to usurp the independence of the Pinelands Commission by firing Commissioners who had the courage to oppose the pipeline. Now, he’s replaced Chairman Lohbauer, who cast a deciding vote to block the pipeline two years ago.

The message is clear: if you step out of line with Gov. Christie’s administration, you will be shown the door. Three out of the seven Pinelands Commissioners who opposed the pipeline have seen nominations to replace them in the last two years. Pinelands Commissioner Leslie Ficcaglia had served for 18 years before she was replaced in 2014 as Cumberland County’s representative. Pinelands Commissioner Robert Jackson had served for more than a decade before being replaced by Commissioner Bob Barr, a political ally of Sen. Van Drew, a pipeline supporter, last March. The Senate Judiciary Committee also heard testimony in the fall of 2014 from Dennis Roohr, a Gov. Christie nominee, to replace Commissioner Darcy Green, who also opposed the pipeline. While that nomination failed, with today’s announcement, four of the seven Pinelands Commissioners who opposed the South Jersey Pipeline have been targeted or removed from the Commission.

The pall of Gov. Christie’s attempts to rig the Pinelands Commission certainly has become heavier with the efforts of the Pinelands Commission Executive Director Nancy Wittenberg to bypass a Pinelands Commission vote and public hearing process regarding the reapplication of South Jersey Gas. The Commission has appeared reluctant to intervene during the unprecedented staff usurpation of authority, which led to the joint litigation filed this week by the New Jersey Sierra Club and Environment New Jersey opposing South Jersey Gas’ revised application and the capricious undermining of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan.

This is the modus operandi of the Christie Administration to intimidate and shape independent boards. The removal of Pinelands Commissioner Lohbauer echoes the firing of Highlands Council Chairwoman Eileen Swan in 2012 because of her reluctance to tow the Christie Administration’s line to weaken environmental protections.

Even from Iowa, Gov. Christie is still handing out retribution to the Pinelands Commission. The Pinelands Commission appointments are becoming an extended montage from Goodfellas – you don’t know who is going to get hit next. The Christie Administration has a love affair with natural gas pipelines and bullying opponents to get their way. The Christie Administration shouldn’t be building pipelines through the Pinelands – or bullying Pinelands Commissioners who don’t toe the Front Office line.”



staff | TPIN

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