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Pinelands Commission Pressured to Respond To A Growing “Crisis of Confidence”

Does the Path From The Pope To Paris Pass Through The Pinelands?

Pinelands Commission Breaks Silence and Denial on Climate Change

Activists Press Commission on Climate Policy and Moratorium On Pipelines 

“Joint Base-Gate” Emails Suggest Fraud

[Update: 10/21/15 – Did I sniff this one out or what?

Upon first hearing of the NJ Natural Gas pipeline, back on February 16, 2015 I wrote: (emphasis in original]

4) Military Madness loophole?

The new issue of the New Jersey Natural Gas proposed pipeline was discussed on Friday.

There were suggestions that the location on Dix/McGuire Joint Base could be used to dodge CMP restrictions.

Do I smell a military loophole being manufactured?  ~~~~~ end update]

Friday’s October meeting of the Pinelands Commission was extraordinary. Shockingly, none of this got reported by the media. Here’s the brief rundown – I urge readers to watch the video to get the full monte.

Climate Change

At the conclusion of the meeting, a Pinelands Commissioner urged the Commission to step up and play a role in climate change and consider the climate implications of fossil infrastructure like pipelines:

I’d like to followup on an issue Mr. Wolfe raised with respect to climate change … I think that there’s nothing more important for us as an agency to do to protect this planet. I agree with Mr. Wolfe. I don’t have a full legal analysis  but I think we have the opportunity and the jurisdiction to do that…. This effort is related to the other discussion we had this morning with respect to pipeline infrastructure. … In my view we shouldn’t be investing in pipelines, we should be investing in renewables.  ~~~~  Commissioner Ed Lloyd (watch at the very end, at time 1:32:30)

Earlier in the hearing, I testified to urge the Commission to consider the Pope’s remarkably popular visit and his urgent climate challenge set forth so beautifully in his encyclical Our Common Home and build a bridge to the upcoming Paris Climate Treaty negotiations:

In the Pope’s wake, the upcoming Paris Climate Treaty is again going to put the climate issue front and center in the public debate. What better time for the Commission to say “we’re going to amend the CMP and incorporate climate policies and energy”?

I previously gave you the scientific rationale for that. I previously pointed to the Adirondack Park Agency who has done something similar with their land use powers to build climate and energy policies into their land use reviews. I’ve pointed to where you have statutory authority under the Pinelands Act to do it. So today, I want to connect the dots on how your existing CMP actually obligates you do do it. …

It is a politically opportune time to make a public statement and get out of all the negativity we’re in and do something positive. Instead of spending staff time working with applicants to build pipelines through the Pinelands, we can do something good.  So, that’s my appeal to reason. ~~~  Wolfe at time 55:10  (wonks can read the end note for connecting the regulatory dots).

For years now, I and many others have urged the Pinelands Commission to address climate change and energy policies in the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP), most recently, see:

Friday’s open discussion was a very small step, but it could be a key turing point, because over two years ago, my recommendations were rejected by Commission “Special Counsel’ Stacy Roth,  in a behind closed doors meeting that was caught on audio tape, see:

Moratorium on Pipelines Pending Reforms to Planning and Regulatory Review 

We have urged the Commission to impose an administrative moratorium on review of pipelines and energy infrastructure until the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) can be amended to provide adequate planning and environmental safeguards.

In support of a moratorium, I reminded the Commission that:1) the nearby DRBC has a moratorium on fracking; 2) the Pinelands Act authorizes the Commission to adopt bylaws and regulations, which is sufficient power to enact a moratorium; 3) that weaknesses and gaps discovered during review of the South jersey Gas pipeline justified the need for additional CMP safeguards; and 4) that the US Supreme Court has upheld administrative moratorium pending adoption of regional plan to protect natural resources in the Lake Tahoe case.

The exploding “Joint Base-Gate” scandal provides additional justification (see below).

I asked the Commission to direct staff to request an Attorney General’s legal opinion – but Special Counsel Roth rejected that saying that the legal issues would be discussed in Executive Session. I objected to that approach for a lack of transparency and accountability.

We may be making progress, because the Commission considered legal issues involving a moratorium in executive session

Growing “Joint Base-Gate” NJ Natural Gas Pipeline scandal 

Doug O’Malley of Environment NJ got it exactly right when he said that recent email disclosures revealing that Pinelands staff may have been involved in what appears to be a scheme by NJ Natural Gas and Joint Base official to concoct a false military purpose to avoid regulatory scrutiny by the Pinelands Commission had created a “crisis of confidence” in the Commission.

There was powerful testimony I urge the public to watch, beginning at time 25:25.

You have black and white emails from company officials that say that they were concocting a military purpose.

A NJNJ official wrote to military officials, in no uncertain terms, that the company was seeking to route the pipeline onto the base not for actual military purpose but for the sole reason to gain the Commission’s deference for projects that have military purposes. …

Providing deceptive information to a public agency or officials was illegal when it happened at the Joint Base and submitting an application to the Pinelands Commission with knowingly false claims for the purpose of obtaining a near total exemption from the CMP, for which an applicant knows it does not truthfully qualify is definitely illegal as well.

In a future post, I will outline why NJNG wanted a military purpose and how the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan provides less restrictive standards.

In the meantime, you can watch the testimony and read the WHYY coverage of that issue here.

Food and Water Watch has posted the emails here.

We’ll keep you posted – the Commission needs to feel strong public pressure to do the right thing on all these issues to resolve the current crisis of confidence.

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