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Pinelands Commission Fails To Marshall Sufficient Votes To Kill South Jersey Gas Pipeline

Six Years After Historic Tie Vote, Zombie Pipeline Is Still Alive

South Jersey Political Machine Refuses To Abandon Pipeline

The Commission’s failure to act makes a mockery of Governor Murphy’s energy and climate policies and invites litigation as well.

The bizarre saga of the proposed South Jersey Gas pipeline through the Pinelands continues.

The latest debacle was as if pipeline champion Senate President Sweeney – Boss George Norcross’ puppet – was in the shadows twisting arms and lawyers from South Jersey Gas were whispering in the ears of certain Commissioners.

It was equally obvious that Governor Murphy lacks the political will and/or the political power to implement his so called climate policies and transition to renewable energy.

In contrast to Gov. Christie, who aggressively strong armed this pipeline through BPU, DEP and the Pinelands Commission approvals, Gov. Murphy is a eunuch. Here’s what went down:

Exactly 6 years to the day after the infamous deadlocked 7-7 vote that rejected a proposed Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to approve the pipeline, at their Friday (1/10/20) meeting to kick off a new decade, the Commission failed to muster the votes to put the final nail in the coffin of that pipeline.

After extracting concessions that neutered a prior strongly worded April 2019 draft Resolution that explicitly deemed the pipeline inconsistent with the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) and “invalid”, pipeline supporters on the Commission betrayed their prior compromise and shifted gears to instead oppose the compromise Resolution.

You can watch the latest embarrassment – public testimony starts at time 41:30 and the Commission’s deliberations start at time 50:00.

Commissioner Lohbauer, who opposed the pipeline, was unable to secure votes to pass the stronger April version of the Resolution. He then negotiated what he, Executive Director Wittenberg, and Commissioner Avery described as a “consensus” compromise Resolution.

But the so called “consensus” resolution only secured 3 votes in favor and was defeated (3 YES, 6 NO). [Correction: The Vote was 4 YES, 5 NO. Sorry about that!]

It was an egregious example of bad faith by the pro-pipeline faction.

Commissioners hid behind all kinds of smoke screens to rationalize and mask their support of the pipeline, as they voted to oppose a compromise, watered down, and vague Resolution.

But Commissioner Earlen, former Chairman appointed by Gov. Christie who aggressively championed the pipeline, was more honest. He said:

This Resolution does nothing. It does not rescind the application It does not revoke it. It does not terminate it.

Commissioner Earlen opposed the Resolution, stating he opposed any Resolution because it was not the role of the Commission, but rather the Executive Director. But he tipped his hand when he said it did a “disservice” – obviously he meant to South Jersey Gas.

Commissioner Christy was equally disingenuous. He spewed drivel that he had never seen a Resolution that rescinded a prior Resolution. He fails to understand that a “Resolution” is the Commission’s procedure for issuing what legally are regulatory approvals.

Of course a regulatory approval can be revoked, but must be revoked via formal procedures, the same that were used to issue the approval, in order to satisfy basic due process concerns. This is why the Commission can not rely on Executive Director Wittenberg’s April 2019 letter to SJG.

Executive Director Wittenberg obfuscated and manipulated again, by conflating the requirement to submit a completely new application and conduct a de novo review by the Commission and public, versus an amendment to the existing approval where the Commission and public have very little effective power. She said:

No way they (SJG) can do this without coming back in (before the Commission).

Wittenberg obviously knows that the real issue is under what regulations, standards, and procedures they come in under.

Chairman Pricket let the cat out of the bag and stated that the Attorney General’s Office, in anticipation of litigation, advised him that Commissioners should make a public statement on the intent of their vote in order to create a public record, because of flaws and lack of clarity in the Resolution itself.

The Court remanded the SJG prior Commission approval back to the Commission.

The Commission has failed to act, thus the prior Commission approval stands, as well as prior DEP and BPU approvals.

The failure to act keeps the door open for SJG to amend the application to provide a different rationale, to sell the approval, or to secure another owner or otherwise revise the BL England re-powering plan. And keep in mind that service to the BL England plant and capacity was not the sole or exclusive basis upon which the Commission approved the pipeline: there were the Cape May redundancy, “resilience”, and capacity to serve new growth in gas demand rationales.

Plus, natural gas exports are now expanding, and an approved pipeline connecting the fracked wells of Pennsylvania and an Atlantic Ocean port is an extremely valuable asset.

That’s why South Jersey Gas is still bullish on the project and misleading shareholders and investors about it.

Failure to act makes a mockery of Governor Murphy’s energy and climate policies and invites litigation as well.

What an awful start to a new decade.

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