Critics of proposed Pinelands pipeline begin bus tour

 Parker Preserve area in the Pinelands. (Photo courtesy of Pinelands Preservation Alliance)

Parker Preserve area in the Pinelands. (Photo courtesy of Pinelands Preservation Alliance)

Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, calls the potential appointment of new Pinelands Commission member Robert Barr “Bridgegate in the Pines.”
 
On the surface it may not appear particularly dramatic compared to apocalyptic traffic jams in Fort Lee. But O’Malley insists that it’s just as emblematic of New Jersey’s political culture — a system of bosses at the top of the political food chain trying to exert their influence on every decision-making body statewide, and exacting revenge when it doesn’t happen.
 
In this particular case, O’Malley alleges that the political orchestrators are Gov. Chris Christie and state Senate president Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester. “They’re trying to strongarm the Commission,” O’Malley said.
 
At 9 a.m. on Wednesday, O’Malley and about 30 other activists had just disembarked from the stars-and-stripes-decorated “Bus for Progress” in front of the Lakewood office of state Sen. Bob Singer, R-Monmouth/Ocean. They were preparing to go in and present their complaints about Barr’s potential appointment to the Commission, tasked with protecting the environmentally sensitive Pinelands National Reserve. The state Senate may vote on Barr’s appointment as early as Monday, O’Malley said.
 
It was the first stop on a day-long bus tour visiting the offices of five regional state Senators who had not yet publicly expressed an opinion on Barr’s appointment, including Nilsa Cruz-Perez, D-Camden, Gloucester; and Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic.
 
On Feb. 24, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Barr’s appointment to replace Commissioner Robert Jackson.
 
Environmental activists claim it’s reprisal because Jackson helped vote down a 22-mile natural gas pipeline for South Jersey Gas. Supporters of the project say it needed to fulfill the state’s energy needs and it would actually be good for the environment by lowering carbon dioxide emissions because it would replace the coal burning power plant in Cape May County with natural gas.
 
Christie and Sweeney both support the pipeline and Barr’s appointment. But former governors Thomas Kean, Christine Whitman, Brendan Byrne and James Florio have issued a joint letter opposing the appointment, saying it would “undermine the independence” of the Pinelands Commission.
 
The activists gathered in the parking lot of Singer’s office on Wednesday morning said that’s a big part of their objections, besides any concerns about the pipeline. They worry that the opinion of any board or commission throughout the state would essentially be rendered moot because politicians at Christie or Sweeney’s level could simply remove anyone who disagrees with them.
 
Jaclyn Rhoads of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance said the state Senate has never voted down a nominee after the nominee has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Then again, four former governors have never spoken out against an appointment either. Rhoads and her colleagues figure there’s a chance, though they expect it to be close.
At about 9:20, they prepared to enter Singer’s office. They knew that he was on vacation, but intended to speak to his staff.
 
Inside, legislative aide Wayne Jarrett greeted them and informed them that Singer would not be back until Monday, and his chief of staff was in a meeting. They asked if they would be able to mark their names and organizations down on a sign-in sheet, to give some indication of how many were present. He said they could.
 
As they signed, several of them reiterated their arguments. They said that collectively, they represented groups with about 400,000 total members. Jarrett listened, but did not address their concerns one way or the other.
 
At length, New Jersey Clean Water Action campaign director David Pringle said it was time to move on. They had a lot of ground to cover. Their last scheduled stop for the day was the office of state Sen. J. Barnes III, D- Middlesex, at 4:15 p.m. “We’re making sure they know that we care,” Pringle said.
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This post is part of our South Jersey Politics Blog

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