Chris Christie, the Christiecrats and Pipelines – Again!
Nancy Wittenberg, Governor Christie's plant as executive director of New Jersey's Pinelands Commission, is a former lobbyist for the NJ Builders Association who understands her mission.
by Anonymous Operative
On May 21, South Jersey Gas filed an “amended” application to run a 22-mile pipeline through the New Jersey Pinelands. And we’re using the word “amended” loosely here, because there were no substantive changes in the pipeline itself.
In January, 2014, the Pinelands Commission rejected essentially the same plan when it was submitted in the form of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between itself and the Christie-controlled Board of Public Utilities. Under an MOA the Pinelands Commission can grant a waiver for a project that would be otherwise not be allowed under New Jersey’s 1979 Pinelands Protection Act, but only if the Pinelands Commission finds that it primarily serves the needs of the Pinelands. The proposed pipeline would only serve the interests of Rockland Capital Energy Investments, which owns an outmoded coal-fired power plant that has to be converted to natural gas. (The plant was originally scheduled to close in 2013, but it just received its second two-year reprieve from the Christie-controlled Department of Environmental Protection.)
This time, SJG is applying directly to the Pinelands Commission as a private party, instead of through an MOA. That approach would let senior commission staff approve the application without having the commissioners vote on it. And Nancy Wittenberg, the executive director of the Pinelands Commission, is a former lobbyist for the New Jersey Builders Association. Aside from that, there are no real changes in the application. (For a detailed discussion, see the post "‘New’ Pinelands Pipeline Proposal Based on Brazen Lies” by Bill Wolfe, the New Jersey director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.)
But this different tack hardly seems necessary, now that the Pinelands Commission has been stacked with pro-pipeline members by the Republican Christie and the über-corrupt South Jersey Democratic Party boss George Norcross.
The Norcross-controlled Christiecrats on the Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders did their part by replacing their longtime commissioner, environmental activist Leslie Ficcaglia, with Jane Jannarone, a realtor and former Freeholder.
And instead of renominating Robert Jackson, who voted against the pipeline, Christie nominated Robert Barr, a protégé of arch-conservative Democratic State Sen. Jeff Van Drew. Barr was turned down twice by the Senate Judiciary Committee before finally getting approved thanks to some underhanded maneuvering by Senate President Steve Sweeney, the public face of the Norcross machine in Trenton. And it took more bullying to get the Barr nomination through the full Senate—but bullying is a Sweeney specialty. You can read about the whole process here, here (update), and here.
The most striking things about that floor vote were that (1) more Democrats voted against Barr than for him, (2) Barr had more votes from the GOP than from Democrats, (3) most of the Dems who voted for him were South Jersey Christiecrats, and (4) the only South Jersey senator to vote against Barr was not a Democrat, but Republican Diane Allen. There you have the Norcross machine at work, aiding and abetting Christie.
Those two changes in membership alone could be expected to assure Pinelands Commission approval of the pipeline project. So why is South Jersey Gas altering its application to make an end run around the commission? They’ve never been embarrassed by that kind of corruption before!
The pipeline could still be stopped in court, and environmental groups have vowed to sue. DWT will be following this story.