Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Three NJ govs. hope to join suit to block Pinelands pipeline

In a rare step, three former governors who opposed a controversial pipeline in the Pinelands are now trying to block the project by joining litigation against the agency that approved it.

Tom Johnson reports today in NJ Spotlight:

The governors -- Brendan Byrne, Jim Florio and Christine Todd Whitman -- have filed an amicus brief in support of environmental groups that have challenged the state Board of Public Utilities approval of the 22-mile natural-gas pipeline through parts of the 1 million-acre preserve.
The filing is perhaps unprecedented. The former governors’ attempt to join a a legal action against a sitting administration demonstrating the unique regard they hold for the expanse of forest, cedar swamps, and groundwater reserves that has been called “one of the nation’s premier environmental treasures.’’
It is still unclear whether the appellate court hearing the case will allow the governors to intervene, but the state -- the defendant -- is taking no stand on their filing. As former officials, the governors argued that each played a key role in trying to protect the Pinelands and “the forces that threaten the success of the Pinelands program.’’ Byne signed the law establishing the Pinelands; Florio, then a congressman, wrote the bill that created the Pinelands National Reserve.
The project is one of the most controversial of more than a dozen gas pipelines either approved or pending in the state. South Jersey Gas would build the pipeline to enable the old B.L. England coal plant in Beesley’s Point to be converted to natural gas.
Backed by labor and business groups, the project reflects policies adopted by the Christie administration, which has aggressively supported expanding the infrastructure of gas pipelines, a strategy its says has reaped economic benefits to consumers and reduced air pollution.
In their 36-page brief, the governors acknowledged the importance of a secure and reliable source of energy for the state’s residents. They concluded, however, if the current decision by the BPU is allowed to stand, ‘’the result will compromise the integrity of the Pinelands program and contravene the balance of interests established by the federal and state’’ laws.
Read the full NJ Spotlight story here 

David Giambusso reports in Politico New Jersey:

Pipeline opponents, such as the New Jersey Sierra Club and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, claim a series of moves by Nancy Wittenberg, the executive director of the Pinelands Commission — working in concert with the BPU and the developer, South Jersey Gas — resulted in the pipeline's approval without a vote ever being cast by the Pinelands Commission, the state-appointed body that exists to protect the preserve.

Last August, Wittenberg, through a certificate of filing, designated the project a private development, which the BPU says gave it the authority to determine the pipeline was needed. That meant the BPU could vote to give itself the power to overrule municipal zoning boards and local commissions on siting the pipeline. One of those boards was the Pinelands Commission.

"If state agencies are permitted to approve major development in the Pinelands based solely on the opinion of the Pinelands Commission's Executive Director, without formal review and findings by members of the Commission, it would negate the careful balance of interests built into the structure of the Commission to ensure the agency's independence over time," the governors wrote.

While he did not sign the amicus brief, former Republican Gov. Tom Kean has publicly expressed discomfort with the pipeline as well.

Read the full Politico story here 

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