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The Pinelands Commission Finally Takes A First Baby Step On Climate Policy

Vague Aspirations, No Specific Policy Commitments, Actual CMP Amendments Postponed Indefinitely

Abdicating Leadership, The Commission Bows To BPU and DEP Lead On Climate Policy And Program

Looks like my controversial snarky and frustrated foray into “Fake News” has become a reality!

We’ve been pounding this issue for a long time, see:

After over a decade of demands for climate action by the public – including bruising battles over fossil infrastructure pipelines – the Pinelands Commission will consider a Resolution (see Draft Resolution) to address climate change at their next meeting scheduled for Friday December 11, 2020. (see correction)

[Correction – I was working off the Commission’s October Management Report, which I received today. The dates are wrong. Here’s the accurate info from the Pinelands Commission:(my emphasis)

That resolution was actually passed at our meeting last week; it’s not a draft. It recognizes the science behind climate change and directs the Climate Committee (LUCIS Committee) to develop climate mitigation amendments to the CMP, among other things, so now the real work comes. Your comments can now be used in that amendment drafting process, and I’m grateful to have your input.

It’s been a long time coming (and Executive Director Wittenberg actually tried to derail it).

As I wrote most recently, over 6 years ago, the Pinelands Commission, in The Fourth Progress Report on Plan Implementation (September 2014), first directed staff to develop climate policies and amend the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) to address climate risks and impacts. (see Action Plan Table on p. 166):

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

In that post, I reiterated a broad climate policy framework for the Commission:

There are many things the Pinelands Commission could do to address climate change, including:

1) establish and fund phenology, forest management, climate impact science, and monitoring programs, including incorporating climate driven rainfall/drought into their similarly long delayed and seemingly stalled “Kirkwood-Cohansey” project on restricting water allocation to protect ecological functions and ecosystems;

2) mandate and promote energy conservation, energy efficiency, renewables (including installation of EV charging stations, public transport, bicycles, and zero carbon development), and distributed publicly owned local power, micro-grids, etc – including requirements for new development applications and to retrofit of existing development;

3) prohibit new fossil infrastructure, like pipelines and power plants, and phase out existing fossil infrastructure, including ecological restoration of disturbance associated with that infrastructure;

4) regulate greenhouse gas emissions, including mandatory offset and mitigation requirements and net zero development;

5) establish a pro-active adaptation program (not just reactive fire suppression).

Call it a Green New Deal for the Pinelands!

Unfortunately, the Commission’s Draft Resolution does not do any of that.

There are no binding schedules or timetables for adopting necessary amendments to the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP).

There are no specific greenhouse gas emission reduction goals snd timetables.

There are no specific research, monitoring, policy, planning, program, staff, or funding elements or commitments.

On the positive side, the draft Resolution does build scientific and legal/regulatory bridges (in legal jargon, a “nexus”) between climate and the Commission’s regulatory jurisdiction under the Pinelands Protection Act and the provisions of the CMP: (emphases mine)

WHEREAS, these measures have not only protected the Pinelands ecosystem but have significantly benefited air and water quality, while protecting agricultural lands and vast wildfire-prone forests that serve to sequester carbon in the entire region when properly managed; and

WHEREAS, wetlands comprise approximately one-third of the Pinelands, and they play a critical role in filtering sediments, pollutants and nutrients from water, while also capturing and storing carbon, providing a buffer against sea level rise, and reducing the impacts of flooding and droughts;

Recall that Commission legal Counsel Stacy Roth and ED Wittenbeg denied that this jurisdiction existed. So, there is some progress on this important and fundamental issue.

But the way the Resolution is drafted raises other problems.

For example, there is no specific and direct linkage between climate and energy policy, energy infrastructure (like pipelines), and building and construction standards and practices, which are currently addressed under the CMP.

This lack of detail undermines the Commission’s ability to establish critical energy efficiency, renewable energy, electrification, and zero carbon standards and technologies. It weakens the Commission’s ability to discourage and/or phrase out fossil infrastructure, to impose retrofit requirements, and to impose CMP standards and conditions on land use and development approvals that greenhouse gas emissions are offset.

The forest related Whereas clause opens the door to destructive forest management and “forest stewardship” logging practices that actually increase carbon emissions and reduce carbon sequestration. Forests, just like wetlands, naturally store/sequester carbon without any active management (note that the wetlands whereas does not include the “properly managed” clause).

Here are the highlights of what the Commission Resolution would do. (Resolved): (emphases mine)

[1. – 2.]

3. The Pinelands Commission further acknowledges that substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are required, together with adaptation measures, to limit the risks of climate change.

[4. – 7.]

8. The Pinelands Commission shall evaluate all proposed CMP amendments in terms of their potential impacts on greenhouse gas emissions and shall seek to include measures that will mitigate adverse impacts on the Pinelands environment.

What are “sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions”? What agency and what specific regulations “requires” those reductions?

No numeric greenhouse gas emission reduction goal is stated (in #3) and no timetable to achieve those reductions are specified and no regulatory  agency is assigned responsibility.

It also appears that the scope of the climate review (#8) is limited to future “proposed CMP amendments”, not the current provisions of the CMP. This must be redrafted and clarified.

It also appears that the review is limited in scope to “mitigate adverse impact” – as opposed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, phasing out fossil, and transitioning to a 100% renewable energy system.

That confused conflation of greenhouse gas emissions reduction (sometimes referred to as “mitigation”) and traditional impact mitigation is present throughout the draft Resolution and really needs to be re-written.

The climate emergency is more than a threat – there are actual current adverse impacts on the Pinelands resources right now. This whereas should be revised to make that clear:

WHEREAS, the Pinelands Commission acknowledges there is ample scientific evidence documenting that climate change poses a new and severe threat to the Pinelands environment;

Finally, the Commission would defer to DEP and BPU and other state agencies on the substance of the statewide climate and energy policy:

5. The LUCIS Committee shall coordinate with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the Board of Public Utilities and other state agencies and departments on their efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change in New Jersey.

This “coordinating” role contradicts the Commission’s role under the Pinelands Protection Act (Act) and conflicts with decades of leadership.

The Act authorizes and directs the Pinelands Commission to protect the Pinelands and adopt a CMP with standards that are more stringent than those adopted by other state agencies.

Most of the Pinelands’s CMP environmental and land use standards are far more stringent than the DEP’s statewide standards.

The Commission must not abdicate its statutory leadership role.

I urge readers to contact the Pinelands Commission and strongly urge that they strengthen the draft Resolution to address the significant flaws I outline above (and more!)

It’s taken so long to get here, better to do it right, redraft the Resolution, and delay another month.

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