Pinelands Commission Nomination Back at Senate Judiciary Committee

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Environment New Jersey

Trenton, NJ – At an extraordinary session called for Tuesday, February 24th at noon, the Senate Judiciary Committee will yet again consider the governor’s nominee to replace a member of the Pinelands Commission because he voted “no” on the South Jersey Gas pipeline deal, which the Pinelands Commission defeated by an evenly-divided vote in January 2014.  For almost a year, the proponents of this deal to permit a natural gas pipeline through the Pinelands Forest Area, in direct violation of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan, have tried to change the outcome by replacing “no” votes with assured “yes” votes.  So far they have failed due to the efforts of Senators unwilling to support this exercise in bad government.

On Tuesday, February 24, the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider the nomination of Robert Barr to replace Robert Jackson on the Pinelands Commission.  The governor made this nomination in April 2014, shortly after the Pinelands Commission narrowly voted down the South Jersey Gas pipeline deal.  This will be the third time Mr. Barr’s nomination has been brought to the Judiciary Committee, having failed to muster the required seven affirmative votes to advance the nomination in the first two tries.

“The timing and circumstances in which the governor nominated Mr. Barr, and the support his nomination has received from supporters of the pipeline deal, make absolutely clear this is an attempt to pack the Pinelands Commission and get it to reverse its prior rejection of that deal.  As such, this is a direct assault on the Pinelands and on the integrity of our state government,” said Carleton Montgomery, executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.

Pinelands supporters are asking the Judiciary Committee to stop this assault on the Pinelands by rejecting this nomination, or tabling the nomination until South Jersey Gas has given up its effort to override the Pinelands protection laws for this project.

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.  Mr. Barr, the current nominee, is a protégé of Senator Van Drew of Cape May County, having been involved in discussions aimed at advancing the pipeline project before he was nominated in April 2014.

“We need the Judiciary Committee to reject or block this appointment to the Pinelands Commission.  The Governor is deliberately trying to stack the Commission.  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 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 to customers if the existing transmission line somehow failed.

“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.

“This is a clear attempt by Gov. 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 Senate should say no to this Pinelands payback scheme, and reject these nominees.”

The coalition is calling on those who value the Pinelands and good government to contact their state Senator about this important issue.