Christie Loses Pinelands Pipeline Vote

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Batsto River in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. (Mwanner/Wikipedia)

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie lost a vote over a pipeline project in the Pinelands Friday, which some observers are saying could be a sign of his weakened political strength.

The proposal to build the 22-mile natural gas pipeline through the South Jersey nature preserve failed after a 7-7 vote by the Pinelands Commission, despite the backing of the Christie Administration. The pipeline was to supply the BL England power plant in Cape May County, a facility whose parent company is represented by the law firm of David Samson — a top Christie appointee at the Port Authority.

Former State Department of Environmental Protection official and activist Bob Wolfe says Samson was likely instrumental in getting the proposal in front of the Pinelands Commission.

“To make that happen, to get multiple agencies coordinated and on the same page and giving concessions to a project takes top-down political intervention that Samson is famous for," said Wolfe.

Samson is one of the figures named in the emails released this week that implicate several figures in Christie's inner circle in last year's lane closures on the George Washington Bridge.

The pipeline project had been expected to pass after an outspoken critic of the plan who serves on the Commission recused himself from the discussions, under pressure from the Christie Administration. But Tom Johnson, Energy and Environment Reporter for NJ Spotlight, says the vote outcome might just reflect a new reality for the Governor.

“The commissioners were less intimidated by the Governor because he's been weakened by this whole scandal," said Johnson, "and they don't think he can intimidate him as much as he has in the past."

It is unclear whether South Jersey Gas will file another application to build the pipeline.


Comments [3]

margo pellegrino

One of the many things that is galling about this particular case is that the BPU thought that the MOA would be an "easy win." How the heck could they presume to speak for 15 independent Commissioners? And why was the Pinelands Commission staff, a public entity funded by NJ taxpayers, being used to "help" South Jersey Gas, a private interest, pick "the perfect" route? Aren't they tasked with protecting the Pinelands? Isn't that what the mission and intent of the Comprehensive Management Plan is all about? Couldn't South Jersey Gas hire some independent experts? And at the very least, as was noted by a CWA rep at one of the Commission meetings, if the Commission is chronically understaffed, or lacks the appropriate experts, then they should have demanded that SJG provide one.

I can't thank the Commissioners enough who voted against this terrible MOA for their bravery and ethics.

Jan. 11 2014 11:19 PM
Gshanley from ocean city, nj

Seven of the Pinelands Commissioners voted to deny an exemption that would have allowed a 24-inch high pressure gas pipeline bringing Fracked gas from the Marcellus Shales through the UNESCO designated Biosphere . Why didn't the whole Commission vote against it since their mandate is to Protect, Enhance and Preserve the NJ Pinelands. The reason is simple. The Board of Public Utilities is ''owned" by the Governor's office and the utility companies. The BPU was the 'front' governmental agency that pushed the South Jersey Gas application, and the Pinelands Commission Executive Director- Nancy Wittenberg and Counsel Stacey Roth fast-tracked the process and operated behind closed doors to deny a complete the deal. No comprehensive environmental impact study was permitted. Only industry information was accepted by staff. The strong arm of the Governor's office as well as the NJ Attorney General's office forced the recusal of Commissioner Prof . Ed Lloyd when he dared to question the exemption. This bad business of NJDEP, NJBPU and the Senior staff of the Pinelands Commission warrants an FBI investigation just like the Bridgegate issue. In the meantime Ms Wittenberg and Ms Roth. esq should resign immediately before they sell the Pinelands to the next highest bidder. They were willing to accept $8 million from the NJGas Co.,. How about $8.5 million from a water company for the 17 trillion gallons of pure fresh water in the Pinelands Aquifer. If it weren't for grassroots environmental defenders there would be no Pinelands. We need a full, comprehensive and impartial investigation by he FBI into the actions of these 3 agencies. As for electricity supply invest in renewables. Our planet cannot take any more exploitation.

Jan. 11 2014 10:46 AM
Tony ODonnell from Plumsted, NJ

Thank you to the seven Commissioners who voted "No" on this plan. And to Commissioner Lloyd as well, who was a certain 8th "No" vote but was forced to recuse himself as a result of some questionable actions on the part of Governor Christie's Attorney General's office and the Pinelands Ethics Liaison Officer (Ms. Roth). While the current pipeline plan is dead as a result of today's vote, someone needs to follow up on the recusal issue and find out who was lying here in a foolish attempt to mislead Commissioner Lloyd into believing that the State Ethics Commission had issued a ruling that he must recuse, when in fact THEY HAD DONE NO SUCH THING.

It is important to note the rationale given by each of the Commissioners today who cast a "No" vote on the MOA. SJ Gas is still eligible to apply for the exact same project by requesting a Waiver of Strict Compliance from the Commission (different than an MOA). It is not entirely clear from the reasons given by some of the Commissioners casting "No" votes today that they would not vote favorably on a Waiver of Strict Compliance. So, environmentalists and opponents of this MOA need to be careful not to "spike the football" too hard...this battle today was a win, but it does not mean the war is over.

Getting back to the pipeline MOA issue voted on today, I was against this plan for several reasons. The most important reason is that other more suitable alternatives surely exist to achieve the energy redundancy that SJ Gas claims is needed. These alternatives will certainly be more expensive, but they can nonetheless be achieved without compromising the Comprehensive Management plan that has served the Pinelands well for over 30 years now. Proponents of the MOA have wrongly accused environmentalists as being "anti-energy" throughout this process. If they had listened more closely, they would have heard opponents saying that "we are not against energy infrastructure, as long as it conforms to the CMP."

So, it is time to get back to the drawing board for SJ Gas. If the redundancy need is as pressing as claimed, it is time to examine routes to convert the BL England plant that will be able to conform to the CMP, or that avoid the Pinelands area entirely.

Jan. 10 2014 08:52 PM

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