Pinelands Commission Testimony Opposing Massive Gas Pipeline

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Environment New Jersey Research & Policy Center

Hello, my name is Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. Environment New Jersey represents over 20,000 citizen members across the Garden State. We have delivered a petition with over 2,000 New Jersey residents weighing in strongly with the Pinelands Commission and Governor Christie opposing the South Jersey Gas Pinelands massive gas pipeline project & Memorandum of Agreement (MOA).

This gas pipeline would tear a scar through the ecological heart of the Pinelands & damage the credibility of the Pinelands Commission. If this pipeline is allowed, all is permitted. This is not merely a death by a thousand MOAs, but it would be opening up a Pandora’s box of future projects. If they waive their rules and approve this Pipeline project they will be unable to deny any future application for a pipeline in a protected area.  And there will be more applications for more pipelines and other infrastructure projects. 

This project is so egregious because it violates the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan, plain and simple.  Because the CMP prohibits using the Forest Management Area as a transit route for pipelines, unless it is “intended to primarily serve the needs of the Pinelands.”  N.J.A.C. 7:50-5.23.  The Pinelands Commission staff stated that this project doesn’t meet that standard – and it is obviously designed to serve people outside the Pinelands.

The Pinelands Commission should not serve as the hand maiden for South Jersey Gas or Gov. Christie’s fossil fuel agenda. It is not the Commission’s job to find a route for the Pipeline or help private companies realize their business plans.  The Commission’s job is to protect the Pinelands.

 This very MOA process is a complete Rube Goldberg affair – except that it violates the principle of the Commission. In order to allow this project the Commission would have to enter into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that would allow them to waive their rules. They can only enter into MOAs with “public agencies” for “public development.” Since South Jersey Gas is a private company, they are proposing to enter into this MOA with the Board of Public Utilities (BPU). But, the BPU is a regulatory agency who oversees regulated utilities like South Jersey Gas. They bear no financial responsibility for this project.   How can the BPU, who regulates South Jersey Gas, enter into an agreement on their behalf?  It is South Jersey Gas who will pay for the project, make money on the project, enter into work contracts for the project and assume liability for the project.  This is an illegal use of the MOA function.

Most importantly, this MOA calls into question the integrity of the Pinelands Commission. This has the appearance of an environmental Operation Bid-Rig, with lawyers standing in for bag-men and educational centers standing in for repaved driveways. An equivalent level of protection is a euphemism for anything under the sun. This MOA requires South Jersey Gas to pay $8 million in order to ensure an “equivalent level of protection” for Pinelands resources.  $7,250,000 would go into the Pinelands Conservation Fund to buy land along the pipeline route.  We question the need to do this since much of this region is in the Forest Management Area and has pretty stringent protections already, if they enforce them. $250,000 would go toward the creation of a Pinelands Education Center at the Commission’s own headquarters and the remaining $500,000 would go toward the Commission’s education and outreach programs.  How is this an “equivalent level of protection?” Pinelands Commissioners are rightly questioning the legality of this deal, because it would waive the rules for a private development, and the state Attorney General’s office has refused to give an opinion endorsing its legality.

This project has been rushed through – and a project this big with such huge implications requires careful consideration by all involved. The Commissioners have raised numerous fundamental questions about the legality, the necessity and the environmental impacts of this deal – which have not been adequately answered. What’s the rush? With all apologies to Paul Simon, slow down, you move too fast.

An issue of this magnitude needs to be dealt with adequate public notice, and multiple hearings. The New Jersey Pinelands should be protected, not turned into the Jersey Pipelands. This may be the most pressing issue to face the Commission. Governors come and go, Commissioners step down, but the intent of the Commission has stayed the same for well over three decades. The Commission’s goal is to protect the Pinelands, not turn it into the Jersey Pipelands. Please reject this MOA.