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Gov. Murphy’s Belated Pinelands Nomination Sparks Controversy

NJ Audubon Lobbyist Not Well Suited To Needed Pinelands Reforms

A year into his tenure, NJ Gov. Murphy finally made 2 nominations to the Pinelands Commission.

The Commission was a battleground during the Christie Administration, as debates raged over controversial pipelines, power plants, developments and failure to respond to climate change, failure to restrict water allocation, and stop off road vehicle destruction, among others.

The Commission’s reputation, independence and integrity were severely eroded as a result of Gov. Christie’s hard ball politics and the subversion by his loyal Executive Director, Nancy Wittenberg (remember this?):

“There was a degree of closeness between the applicant and staff that went beyond the neutrality appropriate to a review process,” said [Pinelands Commission Chairman] Lohbauer, a lawyer. ~~~ Philadelphia Inquirer (1/26/15)

The Christie Pinelands regime prompted editorial outrage:

New Jersey’s Pinelands Commission was once a respected, independent steward of a forest that filters the drinking water for millions in the region. But political manipulation has turned it into an ineffective agency that looks the other way when the preserve’s delicate balance is threatened.  ~~~ Philadelphia Inquirer editorial: “Christie bullied Pinelands panel to get his way (3/9/16)

Given this recent history, the Commission was badly in need of bold leadership and a clean sweep of the Executive Director and Commission members.

Unfortunately, Gov. Murphy has failed that leadership test: in the delay in acting, in failing to force out ED Wittenberg, and in one of his choices for a new Commissioner, Kelly Mooij.

Murphy’s other nominee, Theresa Lettman, is superb, so I will waste no effort here in praising her.

In contrast, for the last decade, Ms. Mooij has served as the Trenton lobbyist for NJ Audubon and in that capacity has advocated NJ Audubon’s interests.

And that raises major concerns, including:

1. A Trenton lobbyist is not well suited to the work of the Pinelands Commission, which must be above the day to day compromises, spin, and deals (and worse) of the Trenton scene.

The last thing the Commission needs right now is more Trenton political baggage and more Trenton deals.

The Commission needs leadership, integrity, and impeccable professional credentials. By dint of her own experience, Ms. Mooij simply fails that test.

2. NJ Audubon has a very controversial approach to “stewardship” of public lands.

That approach includes: a) commercial logging of public lands; b) elevation of dubious science and narrow single bird species conservation over broader public lands policy and environmental interests (while misleading the public); c) leading the “Keep It Green” coalition, which deceived the public about diversion of hundreds of millions of dollars in State Parks capital funds and environmental funding to the Green Acres program; d) deceptive federal farmland conservation grant money laundering to promote the private interests of forestry consultants, private landowners, and hunters; e) supporting scientifically flawed “mitigation” schemes – including money donations in exchange for regulatory approvals – and land deals to allow controversial projects to pass regulatory muster; f) acceptance of hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from wealthy private individuals to do their special private interest land “stewardship” bidding; and g) forming a “partnership” with Donald Trump.

These NJ Audubon views include strong support of “active management” of public forests and public lands, e.g. See:

Such arrogant and scientifically dubious “active management” policy is exactly the wrong approach to the ecologically sensitive Pinelands, which demand a more humble and restrained passive approach.

I have gone into excruciating detail and provided evidence to support all of these claims here at Wolfenotes over the last few years, with the exception of the federal farmland conservation grant money laundering, which I recently learned of and am still researching.

Ms. Mooij is fully aware of all these abuses and has supported them in Trenton on multiple occasions.

3. NJ Audubon has close relationships with corporate NJ, including major development and energy companies that are active in the Pinelands and before the Pinelands Commission.

These relationships directly result in NJA positions on public lands and conservation issues in a way that compromises the public interest in favor of NJA’s corporate allies and funders.

NJ Audubon openly promotes these relationships in their “Corporate Stewardship Council”.

Member companies include co-chairs PSEG and Mannington Mills, as well as Atlantic City Electric/Pepco Holdings, Covanta Energy, Chemours, Eastern Propane, JCP&L, Johnson and Johnson, New Jersey American Water, New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance, Pfizer, Suez, Verizon, ExxonMobil, South Jersey Gas, Pine Island Cranberry Co. Inc., U.S. Silica and Crystal Springs Resort. Former CSC members include New Jersey Natural Gas, Merck, and Eagle Ridge Golf Course. Ex-officio CSC members are the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Ms. Mooij is fully aware of these relationships and has supported and defended them in Trenton.

Appointment to the Pinelands Commission would send exactly the wrong signal on issues of independence and integrity.

Some of these relationships pour salt on open wounds that are festering from major pipeline battles still pending resolution that remain before the Commission, e.g. see: Construction starts on Pinelands pipeline, Phil Murphy silent

Finally, Ms. Mooij might be forced to recuse from critical decisions, due to this prior “stewardship” work.

4. Ms. Mooij has not been a leader in the Pinelands

Ms. Mooij and NJ Audubon have very little positive accomplishments in the Pinelands, and have been basically invisible during major debates before the Commission.(in contrast to fellow nominee Ms. Lettman’s long tenure, aggressive activism, and love of the Pines).

That is the opposite of the leadership so badly needed right now at the Commission.

5. Ms. Mooij has cynically manipulated people

I close the argument with a photo – which speaks volumes. That’s Ms. Mooij on the right:

Newark Mayor Baraka used as prop by Keep It Green – Did Baraka and urban Dems get played, or what?

Newark Mayor Baraka used as prop by Keep It Green – Did Baraka and urban Dems get played, or what?

Given the above, I encourage readers to reach out to the Chairman and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and urge that Ms. Mooij not receive a confirmation hearing.

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