Pemberton, NJ (January 13, 2017) — Warning that a gas pipeline in the Pinelands would threaten natural resources and encourage development that could harm the fragile region, four former New Jersey governors made a bipartisan appeal to the Pinelands Commission to uphold its rules and reject a pipeline proposal from South Jersey Gas.
The commission will hold a public meeting about the proposed pipeline on January 24, and will vote on whether to approve the project some time after that. Another proposed pipeline in the Pinelands, New Jersey Natural Gas’s Southern Reliability Link, will go through a similar process at some point in 2017.
Democratic former Governors Brendan Byrne and Jim Florio, and Republicans Tom Kean and Christine Todd Whitman, reminded Pinelands Commission Chair Sean Earlen in a joint letter that, under the rules set out in the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan, infrastructure like gas pipelines in the Pinelands can be approved only if it serves the needs of people already living there. “On any interpretation, this pipeline…does not meet that standard,” they wrote.
The four governors reminded the Commission “that Commission staff correctly determined in 2014 that the project violated the Comprehensive Management Plan, then, after the Commission vote in 2014, simply reversed that determination in order to advance its approval.”
“A rationale can always be constructed to approve a major development such as this one,” the governors continued, adding their view that “this kind of inconsistency, if endorsed by the full Commission, undermines public confidence” as well as the integrity of the Pinelands preservation program.
The 1.1 million acre Pinelands National Reserve, established in 1978 by federal and state legislation, protects the Pine Barrens, a rare ecosystem that includes one of the largest freshwater aquifers in the Northeast that supplies drinking water to more than one million people.
Representatives of New Jersey organizations opposing the pipeline welcomed the action of the four governors.
“If the Commission turns its back on decades of bipartisan efforts to protect this precious asset, the door opens to more pipelines and more threats to drinking water and other resources,” said Carleton Montgomery, executive director, Pinelands Preservation Alliance. “I thank the governors for speaking out.”
“Protecting the Pinelands for future generations shouldn’t be a Democratic or Republican position,” said Michele S. Byers, executive director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “By weighing in so strongly, these four governors show how important this is for all New Jerseyans.”
“This letter is a stern reminder that the Pinelands Commission needs to follow its own rules,” said Ed Potosnak, executive director, New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.
South Jersey Gas wants to build a 22-mile pipeline through the Pinelands that would cut through sensitive forest areas in Cumberland, Atlantic, and Cape May Counties. The “Cape Atlantic Reliability Pipeline” as the project is formally named, would send gas to customers outside the Pinelands.
The commissioners voted to reject the pipeline in 2014. Then in 2015 Pinelands Commission Executive Director Nancy Wittenberg unilaterally decided that the South Jersey Gas application met the Commission’s rules and could proceed. After the Pinelands Preservation Alliance and other conservation groups challenged her action, an appellate court panel ruled in November 2016 that the ultimate authority and decision-making power rests with the full Commission.
In their letter, the four governors were critical of Wittenberg’s decision, saying she “simply reversed” the commission’s disapproval, though no relevant facts had changed. The full version of the governors’ letter to the Pinelands Commission is available here.