In 1979, the New Jersey Legislature created the Pinelands Commission – a quasi-independent agency whose mission “is to preserve, protect, and enhance the natural and cultural resources of the Pinelands National Reserve, and to encourage compatible economic and other human activities consistent with that purpose.”
The Pinelands consists of over a million acres of pristine land, ecological refuges, and a home to endangered species in one of our most densely and overdeveloped states. So the Commission was established to balance the needs for environmental stewardship against the ever growing threat of industrialization and environmental despoilment.
It’s worked pretty well. A trip through the area provides a serene and beautiful backdrop for hikers, bicyclists, and other people who want to escape the din of malls, traffic, and bulldozers.
Enter Governor Christie – and his ceaseless kowtowing to the dirty energy industries.
Two years ago, the Pinelands Commission rejected a proposal to build a high-pressure pipeline through the Pinelands – a pipeline that would transport natural gas to be used primarily outside of New Jersey.
Not willing to abide by the rules, the Christie administration did two things. First, they packed the Pinelands Commission with energy industry toadies. Then, to make sure their dirty energy buddies got their way, they got their compliant Pinelands commissioner to agree that her organization did not need to rule on the pipeline and that the Board of Public Utilities (another entity controlled by Christie clones) had the authority to grant the approvals required to devastate this pristine area with a pipeline.
And so, today they did just that.
The five-member BPU voted 3-0 to approve this foolhardy project. Commissioner Upendra Chivukula – generally a fried of the environment – recused himself. Commissioner Joe Fiordaliso was absent from the meeting for the first time in 10 years.
Environmental groups reacted strongly. Doug O’Malley of Environment New Jersey said:
Today’s BPU vote is a rubberstamp decision that circumvents the Pinelands Commission and the public. The vote will lead to a pipeline that tears a massive ecological scar through the heart of the Pines and create the largest global warming polluter in South Jersey in a floodplain. Even worse, today’s vote means South Jersey Gas’ gambit is one step closer to success. Nearly two years after the South Jersey Gas was defeated by a deadlocked vote at the Pinelands Commission, the Pinelands Commission has been fully removed from deciding the fate of the pipeline, the public has been shut out of the decision-making process and even the towns where the pipeline will run are being left out.
Today’s hearing was a kangaroo court presented by the BPU. The decision, supposedly based on a narrow MLUL zoning issue, included a lengthy defense of the South Jersey Gas pipeline through the Pinelands and relied heavily on the submissions of South Jersey Gas. There was no independent analysis of the project was considered or referenced, no reference to climate impacts or carbon pollutions and no reference to the Pinelands Commission being shut out of a process they deliberated on for months more than two years. There was no justice for the Pinelands today, and this was an early Christmas gift to South Jersey Gas.
Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club added:
[T]he BPU has manipulated the system to allow South Jersey Gas to put forth their application as private development, which is prohibited under Pinelands rules unless it benefits the people within the Pinelands, though it will clearly serve people living outside the Pinelands. Today’s decision has taken away any further involvement from the Pinelands Commission, local municipalities or the public to stop this pipeline.
The BPU has just sold out the Pinelands to South Jersey Gas. They have rubberstamped this damaging pipeline and have removed jurisdiction away from local towns, the Pinelands Commission, and the public’s right to have a say or involvement in this project. The BPU does not have the expertise or knowledge on the environmental impacts on the Pinelands. By removing jurisdiction from municipalities, it removes oversight by citizen groups and local communities. They also have removed oversight by the Pinelands Commission, which is supposed to review and oversee environmental impacts that affect the Pinelands. This has added insult to injury because the BPU knows nothing about the Pinelands and will just allow this damaging project to go through
The bottom line is that the environment joins the ranks of women, poor people, teachers, students, and others who are suffering unnecessarily while Christie pursues his presidential ambitions and coddles his donors. And the damage will manifest itself long after Christie is a footnote in New Jersey’s history.