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Pinelands Commission Executive Director Wittenberg Tries to Derail Consideration of Climate Change

Once again, official documents conflict with Executive Director’s comments

Once again, Wittenberg tries to manipulate Commission policy instead of following it

Every time I plant a seed,
He said “kill it before it grow”,
He said “kill them before they grow”. ~~~ I Shot The Sheriff (Bob Marley)

I’m just here to caution that the reason that we prioritize is because of resource limitations. … we’re not necessarily ready to abandon anything else that we’re so close to finishing. ~~~ Executive Director Wittenberg

In response to many months of pressure and demands by the public and climate activists, at the November 13, 2015 meeting of the Pinelands Commission, Chairman Lohbauer finally directed staff to prepare briefing materials on climate change issues – we wrote about that here:

On November 18, 2015, State Climatologist Robinson briefed the Commission staff and the public on climate change issues as part of the Commission’s science program series, see:

The Commission’s Science Program is provided prominent and priority attention in the Commission’s accomplishments, right up front on page 3 (before even the issue of land preservation!) as noted in the 2014 Plan Review Report:

Science Program

Commission scientists continued to conduct important research on the status of the Pinelands ecology. Much of the research details the connection between land-use and its effect on water quality and quantity, and it provides the basis for future policies and initiatives aimed at further preserving Pinelands natural resources.

So, it was obvious that momentum was building and the Commission would have to address climate change in some fashion.

So, what did Commission Executive Director Wittenberg – who has done so much to promote, expedite, and rubber stamp fossil fuel pipelines – do at the next regularly  scheduled December 11, 2015 Commission meeting with respect to the Chairman’s request for a staff briefing on climate??

Wittenberg tried to derail the Commission’s consideration of climate change  – read and listen to her words carefully (watch, at time 23;33):

At the last Commission meeting, Commissioner Lloyd raised the issue of climate change and you [Chairman Lohbauer] said we were going to talk about it in December at P&I [Planning and Implementation Committee]. There is no December P&I, so we’re going to do it in January.

But, as staff is sort of thinking about it and getting ready for that meeting, I just wanted to remind all of us that an enormous piece of work that we did not long ago in Plan Review.

The Plan Review Report, which was issued in September 2014, identifies our work plan going forward for the next 10 years. 

We included in that work plan climate change.

We then prioritized some issues and decided as a group that were going to focus on certain things [unintelligible] that we are going to work on – PDC’s; Kirkwood-Cohansey; Medford-Evesham; off road vehicles – and we are doing that work as we report regularly and are very diligent about it.

So, as those things start to wind down, we move down the list.

So, it [climate change] is there. There’s not much meat on the bones [unintelligible] as we assess the issue and identify what we can do. 

So we can start that at P&I. I’m just here to caution that the reason that we prioritize is because of resource limitations. 

[Chairman Lohbauer interjects] “Understood”

So, as much as we’re ready to start thinking about it we’re not necessarily ready to abandon anything else that we’re so close to finishing.

Wittenberg’s comments sure sounded like Wittenberg was trying to sandbag the climate change issue: i.e. there are other priorities; a lack of resources; a 10 year planning horizon.

[*Those other 8 key priorities in the work plan that trump climate change include such vital earth shaking issues as “administrative efficiency”, outdoor billboards, and MOA reforms. Wow!]

Before the climate issue is even engaged, she is pitting climate change issue against other important issues and trying to drive a divisive wedge between the groups that work on them – exactly consistent with her boss, Gov. Christie’s “climate change is no crisis” perspective – which is just what the gas and pipeline corporations want.

So, I went and read the CMP Plan Review Report and the alleged 10 year agenda that Wittenberg cited in her comments, see:

I wanted to review that document and ask a few questions:

  • Was the climate change issue “in there” as Wittenberg stated?
  • How did the climate issue stack up in priority with other issues?
  • What specifically did the staff and Commission make a commitment to accomplish in the work plan “over the next ten years” as Wittenberg noted?

For regular readers of this blog, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that the documents again show that Wittenberg is a manipulator with loyalty first and foremost to Governor Christie.

First of all, the Climate change issue is NOT “in there”, if by the common meaning of that term that the climate issue was included in the body of the report and included as a recommended activity of the Commission and work plan item (staff recommendations are found on pages 156 – 164, and climate change is not one of them).

The climate issue was not an issue initiated by staff or included in the body of the report or the work plan, other than vaguely and only in response to public comments. It is misleading to claim “it’s in there”, even if Wittenberg correctly qualified that by saying there’s “not much meat on the bones”.

Second, the timeframe of the work plan recommendations is 5 years, not 10 years as Wittenberg stated:

Commission staff will use the Committee’s discussions and completed list of recommendations as guidance in developing its work program for the next five years. (@ page 156)

Why would Wittenberg exaggerate the timeframe?

In order to dampen expectations for action (I suggested a 6 month process in my fake press release)

The climate change issue is only mentioned once on page 165, at the very end of the document, which summarizes public comments – buried would be putting it kindly.

Here is the complete text on the climate issue, and it is only included in response to public comments, not by Commission staff:

“The following list identifies the broad range of topics raised by Commissioners, the public and Commission staff and discussed at length during Plan Review Committee meetings from 2012 through 2014.

[1. – 3. ]

4. Public comment:

  • The CMP should include a standard to address greenhouse gas emissions
  • Develop rules and strategies to reduce contributions to climate change and adapt to climate change impacts

The Commission will evaluate what options are available to address climate change through the CMP and in cooperation with other agencies. 

Once again, we find the Executive Director misleading the public and manipulating the Commission.

Once again, Wittenberg has directly undermined Chairman Lohbauer – this time his request to initiate staff work on climate change.

She has said other issues are higher priorities and there are not sufficient resources.

That sure sounds like making policy to me, not following the policy direction of her boss, Chairman Lohbauer.

But, oops, I forgot: Wittenberg reports to Governor Christie, not the Pinelands Commission.

[End Note: Here’s another subtle and sly example of Wittenberg’s manipulation.

During public comment of the December 11 Commission meeting, I criticized Wittenberg for failure to include the State Climatologist’s presentation in her monthly management Report to the Commission. In my view, it was a significant and timely event.

Wittenberg’s response was that the State Climatologist’s presentation was just part of a routine science series and not worth discussion.

Ironically, the Plan Review Report Wittenberg cited to sandbag the climate issue also highlights the importance of the Commission’s Science program as developing the basis for CMP amendments!

Can’t have it both ways: either the science series is some esoteric routine not worthy of mention, or the Science program is vitally important to developing the technical basis for CMP amendments. If it’s the latter, then surely the State Climatologist’s presentation was important enough to mention to the Commission in a management Report, particularly in light of Chairman Lohbauer’s prior November direction on climate.

Regardless of any of this, the State Climatologist has sufficient stature for Wittenberg to brief the Commission on his work – and obviously, the climate issue warrants her and the Commission’s attention.

By failing to even mention it in a monthly management Report, Wittenberg snubbed the State Climatologist, Chairman Lohbauer, and the science.  ~~~ end]

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