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Gov. Murphy Urged to Protect Pinelands

by New Jersey Sierra Club

Murphy Must Make Commission Appointments to Protect Pinelands  Screen Shot 2018-08-18 at 15.9.31

The New Jersey Sierra Club is co-hosting a press conference and rally at the Statehouse today urging Governor Murphy to keep his campaign promise and appoint new members to the Pinelands Commission. Governor Christie stacked the Pinelands Commission with pro-development cronies so he could push through dangerous projects including pipelines. We need to replace those Commissioners with people who will do their job to protect the Pinelands the people who live there.

“The Pinelands are still at risk because the Commission is still controlled by Christie’s pro-development agenda. He may be gone but he still controls the Commission because his appointees still lead it. They are still running the Commission with policies that hurt the Pinelands. Phil Murphy, as a candidate, promised to appoint people to the commission who support the protection of the Pinelands.  Nine months into his term and he still has not appointed or even nominated any. We need new members on the Pinelands Commission is to protect this environmentally-sensitive areas from fossil fuel infrastructure. Due to Murphy’s inaction, we still have a Commission that pushes through pipelines and votes again and again to sell out the Pines to development. This is an urgent situation and Murphy must act,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The first thing Murphy should have done was to remove Sean Earlen as Chair and replaced him with an environmentalist. He had the authority to do this on day one and he also has the ability to nominate seven Commissioners but has nominated none. If Murphy really cares about protecting the Pinelands, he must make new appointments to the Commission immediately.”

Governor Christie had stacked the Commission with pro-fossil fuel advocates who approved these projects against the will of the people in the Pines and across New Jersey. South Jersey Gas (SJG) and New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG) are both trying to push through gas pipelines by getting around the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP). Current Executive Director of the Commission Wittenberg has exceeded her authority to approve these dangerous pipelines against the wishes of the people and the protections of the Pinelands.

“We still have an Executive Director who is pro-development and pro-pipeline and Murphy must have her removed. Nancy Wittenberg exceeded her authority by unilaterally determining that pipelines are consistent with the Comprehensive Management Plan. This decision circumvented a public hearing and further vote by the Pinelands Commission, which we believe is against the Pinelands Protection Act. He also must remove Republican developer Earlen as Commission Chair, who was appointed by Christie. As long as Murphy doesn’t nominate new people, Christie’s policies will continue to put people in the Pines at risk,” said Jeff Tittel. “Murphy had the authority to replace the Pinelands Commission Chair with a pro-environmental choice but choose to keep pro-development leaders. He also has not removed Nancy Wittenberg who has been rebuffed by the courts for overreaching her authority to Support pipelines in the Pines.”

In June, the Commission planned to vote on a new rule that they ended up tabling. This rule would prevent people from appealing decisions buy the Pinelands Commission to the Office of Administration Law. Even worse, it stops them from having to have evidentiary hearings on development applications in front of the Commission. This denies people the right to question their decisions by bringing in experts and providing evidence, even if they were wrong or deliberately lied. This is a direct result of the recent pipeline applications to the Pinelands Commission. Over the past eight years, multiple pipeline companies have tried to put natural gas lines through the Pinelands.

“Last summer, the Commission made an attempt to vote to eliminate the rights of members of the public to an evidentiary hearing on permits. Until now, the Pinelands Commission has always recognized this right and held hearing for proposed permits in the Pines. Under Governor Christie, the Pinelands Commission became filled with, and controlled by, people who routinely vote for fossil fuel infrastructure over protecting the Pines. We need to have better Commissioners so this type of dangerous vote isn’t brought up again,” said Jeff Tittel. “Recently, the Commission did not have enough votes to fully deny a DEP request that would clear 16 acres of trees from the Pines. If Murphy had made appointments earlier in his term, the application would have been dead without having to enter a confusing court battle and be drawn out.”

The most recent sell-out by the Pinelands Commission was for the DEP’s plan to clear-cut 16 acres of forest. The Commission didn’t have enough votes to approve the plan but also didn’t have enough votes to deny it, meaning it now goes to the courts. Their reasoning is to clear a view from the fire tower. However, there is plenty of technology to allow a better view that doesn’t include cutting down the very forest they’re trying to protect from fires in the first place.

“We’ve been fighting for 45 years to protect the Pinelands. Right now, we’re standing up to Murphy to make him do his job to protect the Pinelands. His lack of action is hurting one of New Jersey’s most precious ecosystems. This Christie-appointed Commission has voted again and again to sell out the Pinelands under the last Administration. Instead of making it a fair process, they’ve gamed the system to keep out the public opposition and rubberstamp dangerous pipelines. We need Commissioners that will protect the Pinelands and drinking water for New Jersey by voting down unnecessary projects, especially gas pipelines,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “When running for office, Murphy committed to appoint people who support protecting the Pines to the Commission and so far he has failed to do so. Until changes to the Commission are made, the Pinelands, a U.N. Biosphere reserve and a New Jersey treasure, remains at risk.”