Home > Uncategorized > The Pinelands Commission Has Lost All Its PhD Scientists -Staff Lacks Expertise to Review Controversial Gas Pipeline Project

The Pinelands Commission Has Lost All Its PhD Scientists -Staff Lacks Expertise to Review Controversial Gas Pipeline Project

Executive Director Rejects Offer of Independent Scientists’ Briefing

Commission’s Review Heavily Reliant on Gas Company “Experts”

There were fireworks at the Pinelands Commission regular September monthly meeting last friday. But, unfortunately, the NJ press corps, diverted by Sandy and Gov. Christie’s stunts, were not there to hear the large trees falling in the forest (sorry to mix metaphor!).

So here’s what went down.

The backdrop for the hearing was the controversial $100 million 22 mile South Jersey Gas pipeline to re-power the BL England power plant at Beesley’s point.

The pipeline was not on the Commission’s formal agenda, but nonetheless a handful of project opponents attended and testified to the Commission during the public comment phase of the meeting.

But before that testimony was presented on the SJG pipeline, there were stunning revelations.

After the Commission cruised through the formal agenda items, during the public comment section, there was unexpected and disturbing testimony regarding the staff situation.

Stunning testimony portrayed the Commission in disarray, suffering from a depleted and demoralized staff  that had lost scientific expertise and leadership. According to Janelle Blackmon, of  the Communications Workers of America (CWA):

Twenty three staff positions remain unfilled. Your planning Office now lacks a graduate economist. Your Science Office once had  three Ph.D. scientists; now it has none.

There are currently 44 staff at the Commission, with just 5 in the science program. So, 23 unfilled positions represents a level 34% below a fully authorized staff of 67 required to protect the precious Pinelands. Wow.

That CWA testimony shocked pipeline opponents, who have focused on the need for a rigorous and independent review of the controversial project.

To balance the influence of the South Jersey Gas Company experts, who have been meeting behind the scenes with Commission staff since April 2012, opponents have requested that an independent scientist, restoration ecologist Kevin Heatley, make a 30 minute presentation to the Commission on pipeline impacts.

The SJG pipeline opponents were not aware of the dire staff situation, a problem that magnified the importance of opponents’ request for the Commission to provide an opportunity for an independent scientific expert.

In addition to the loss of PhD scientists and the 23 vacant staff positions, the Commission lacks certain expertise required to review the SJG pipeline proposal.

It was clear based on the staff’s previous presentation of the pipeline project, that they rely on SJ Gas Company’s expertise in multiple areas, including engineering, geo-technical, hydro-geology, pipeline safety, and energy planning.

Given these deficits, I recommended that the Commission hire qualified independent experts in those fields to provide a science based review of the potential impacts.

I made it clear that the Commission has the authority to require that the applicant pay for these experts, so there is no budget impediment to the Commission procuring expert advice.

I also stressed the need to consider ecological impacts related to climate change, which will be exacerbated by direct methane emissions from the pipeline infrastructure as well as indirectly from the combustion of the gas at the BL England power plant.

More to follow on the latter issues.

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