Home > Uncategorized > Christie Names Former Builders Lobbyist As Head of Pinelands Commission

Christie Names Former Builders Lobbyist As Head of Pinelands Commission

Appointment Praised By NJ “Environmentalists”

The Christie Administration just named Nancy Wittenberg, former head lobbyist for the NJ Builders Association, as Executive Director of the Pinelands Commission. The Commission oversees land use and implements a comprehensive Management Plan in 1.1 million environmentally fragile acres of the Pinelands National Reserve.

Here’s what we said in 2006 when the Corzine Administration appointed Wittenberg as a DEP Assistant Commissioner for Environmental Regulation:

BUILDERS’ LOBBYIST TAPPED AS TOP STATE ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATOR – Wittenberg Will Oversee Environmental Rules She Criticized as Lobbyist

Trenton:  The lobbyist for the New Jersey Builders Association has been appointed as the Assistant Commissioner for Environmental Regulation for the state Department of Environmental Protection. In this new role Nancy Wittenberg will oversee critical water quality and land use related permits and approvals that directly affect her former developer clients, according to New Jersey Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

“This appointment shows that the revolving door of business lobbyists exerting undue influence on environmental regulation will be swinging briskly,” said New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe. “While professionally and academically qualified to fill the post of Assistant Commissioner, Ms. Wittenberg’s appointment is not in the public interest and sends the wrong message to the public and professional staff and scientists in the Department.”  …

“Her extreme positions and statements as a lobbyist raise legitimate questions about her judgment and capacity to fairly and objectively administer environmental laws”.

Here’s what NJ environmentalists said about Christie’s appointment of Wittenberg to head the Pinelands Commission, a job demanding far more land use training, ecological dilligence, and a preservation orientation than a DEP regulator (in an Asbury Park Press story by Kirk Moore):

“I think Nancy is a very knowledgeable and talented person,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club’s New Jersey Chapter, who describes her as a friend. But “she looks at land use very differently than environmentalists do.”

Carleton Montgomery of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance said he thinks Wittenberg can be effective at managing the Pinelands’ land-use plan that covers 22 percent of New Jersey’s land mass.

“I’m optimistic that she will turn out to be a good choice. She brings a wealth of skill and experience to the job,” Montgomery said. Wittenberg has a reputation for intelligence and savvy management that could stand her well in the new job, he added: “The Pinelands Commission is in a weakened state, and its budget has been cut to the bone.”

I really have no further comment on this one (but some interesting history here).

[Update 1 – clarification from Tittel:

I went on to say that her work for the NJBA gives her a conflict of interest and the person heading the Pinelands should have a background in planning and natural resource conservation not the Builders Association.

[Update 2 – further clarification – Sierra Club statement

For Immediate Release

November 30, 2010

Contact: Jeff Tittel, 609-558-9100

Sierra Club Statement on Nancy Wittenberg’s Appointment as Pinelands Commission Executive Director

We have worked with and known Nancy Wittenberg for a long time, however, we are concerned that as a former lobbyist and staff person for NJ Builders Association, her appointment as Executive Director of the Pinelands Commission is not appropriate. We believe Nancy is capable and did some good things as Assistant Commissioner of the DEP but in that role, she oversaw air and water permitting programs and did not work directly in land use. Her past with the Builder’s Association and some of the positions she had to take back then may put her at odds with carrying out her duties as Executive Director of the Pinelands Commission. While we believe she did a good job at DEP on permitting issues, this role is very different and she has a conflict of interest.

The Pinelands Commission is a national model for growth management and conservation of natural resources. We believe that the director of such an important body should have a much stronger background in land use planning and natural resource protection. We have been critical of other administrations as well for appointing people to key planning and natural resources positions who did not have a background in that area. Unfortunately, Nancy’s background in that area, working for the Builder’s Association, is a major cause of concern for the Pinelands. Last week, the Governor proposed some very bad appointments to the Highlands. Now with a new Executive Director for the Pinelands, we believe these appointments are a setback for the environment.

[Update 3 – Phillyburbs coverage – clear separation between Tittel and Montgomery]

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