In response to our Jan. 27th letter to the Pinelands Commission against the sham process to approve the South Jersey Gas pipeline, they came back and are saying that they do not need to hold a real public hearing. This is according to the "process" they outlined in the resolution passed at their Dec. 9th 2016 meeting.
“The Pinelands Commission once again has shown they don’t care about the public or public input. By prohibiting the public from real hearings, the Commission is making another outrageous attempt to push through the South Jersey Gas pipeline. Their letter shows they are clearly moving forward with a vote on this destructive pipeline at their next meeting without following the rules in place to protect the Pinelands. This is part of Governor Christie strong-arming the Commission to expedite the process and keep the public out,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Not only does this pipeline violate the rules in place to protect the Pinelands, so does their process. The process allows the Pinelands Commissioners to rely on the Executive Director’s determination that this pipeline meets the needs of the Pinelands when it does not. The letter even states that the staff is providing comments to the Commissioners about this application, but we do not know what comments the staff are giving them. All along the Pinelands Commission have prohibited the public from asking questions, while keeping out expert witnesses or any cross examination so the public and the Commissioners cannot hear the real facts.”
They continued in the letter to say, “In addition, the staff has been reviewing comments as they come in, and already provided some comments to the Commissioners. All comments will be provided to the Commissioners once the comment period closes. The Commission will have adequate time to review any additional comments and the Executive Director’s report on the application.” Without a real public hearing, there was no cross examination of witness or a chance to bring in experts to show this pipeline clearly violates the rules in place to protect the Pinelands. Many people left the last meeting without being able to hear groups like Sierra Club speak to educate themselves and speak out against the project.
“From the beginning, the Pinelands Commission has kept the public out, with a sham process designed to get around the rules. They will even try to vote on this pipeline on February 24th, before the public gets the opportunity to be heard during the comment period. This is part of the Commission playing games to do their dirty work during their business meeting, before the public has an opportunity to be heard,” said Jeff Tittel. “Without a response to comment document, we will not know how they are getting around the rules in place to protect the Pinelands and justify this damaging project.”
This same pipeline was voted down by the Commission three years ago because the forest standards of the CMP prohibit public service infrastructure is unless it “intended to primarily serve only the needs of the Pinelands.” N.J.A.C. 7:50-5.23(b)(12). By re-fueling BL England Power Plant, which is outside of the Pinelands, this pipeline clearly violates the CMP. Since the application has not changed, the Commission should vote this project down again because it is still not a private development, it is a public utility that doesn’t meet the needs of the Pinelands.
“This pipeline clearly violates the rules from a procedural and substantive standpoint. Instead of listening to the Court ruling in 2016 that ordered a real public process, the Pinelands Commission proposed a sham meeting and a sham process. What we really need is a real public process, including a real hearing with cross examination where Commissioners can ask questions and refute the misinformation by BL England and DEP. They also still haven’t even come up with rulemaking for this utility pipeline, which also violates the Comprehensive Management Plan. Instead they are clearly violating the CMP, because BL England is outside the state Pinelands jurisdiction and the electricity will not serve people living in the Pinelands,” said Tittel. “It is outrageous the Commissioners may be relying by the spin from BL England and NJDEP because there was no cross examination by our experts.”
This pipeline not only puts at risk a United Nations Biosphere Reserve, 17 trillion gallons of clean drinking water found in its aquifer, but plant species found nowhere else in the world. Even former Governors Brendan Byrne, Christine Whitman and James Florio have come out publicly for the third time to oppose this pipeline and against the Christie Administration’s games. The former governors understand this pipeline violates the Pinelands rules, could undo the Comprehensive Management Plan and will open up the Pinelands for inappropriate development.
“Without having a real public process, it is clear the Pinelands Commission is working in lock step with the Christie Administration to turn the Pinelands into the Pinelands. We must demand the Pinelands Commission should do their job and actually have this proposal follow the rules in the CMP, which would mean they would have to vote NO,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “By bending the rules in place to protect the Pinelands, it is clear the Christie Administration will do anything to rubberstamp this project and keep the BL England Power Plant open. That is why we must continue our public outcry against this project that will put an ugly scar through the Pinelands, risk our water supply, and threaten the largest open space on the Eastern seaboard. We have come out for forty years to protect the Pinelands and will continue to do so for another 40 years.”
The New Jersey Sierra Club and a coalition of groups to protect the Pinelands will host a rally at the statehouse steps in Trenton for the Pinelands Commission to reject this pipeline on Tuesday, February 21st at 12:00 PM, noon.
The next Pinelands Commission meeting where a vote is expected on the pipeline will be held on Friday, February 24, 2017 at 9:30 a.m. at the Crowne Plaza Philadelphia-Cherry Hill in the Grand Ballroom. The address for the Crowne Plaza is 2349 West Marlton Pike, Cherry Hill, New Jersey.