Today’s Sneak Attack on Pinelands

Sierra Club Release

For Immediate Release

August 14, 2015
Contact Jeff Tittel, 609-558-9100

Today’s Sneak Attack on Pinelands

Today at the Pinelands Commission, Executive Director Nancy Wittenberg said the South Jersey Gas pipeline is now a private development for use in the Pinelands,which she claims exempts it from any action by the Pinelands Commission. Under her ruling, she and the BPU will have the authority to approve or deny the pipeline. This means that if her decision stands there will be no public hearing, public input, and the Pinelands Commission does not have a voice or vote on this decision. The Pinelands is a truly unique and ecologically important region, recognized as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. There are plants and species in the Pinelands found nowhere else in the world. The Pinelands protects 17 trillion gallons of water in its aquifer and is the largest open space on the northeastern seaboard. The destruction from this pipeline would do irreparable harm to an area rich in diversity.

“This is the Pearl Harbor of the Pinelands. What Nancy Wittenberg did was a sneak attack on the Pinelands for South Jersey Gas. In an outrageous abuse of power, she has taken away the rights of the public and the rights of the Commissioners from having a voice on this destructive pipeline. What she did was immoral and is illegal. Not only is Wittenberg a Christie crony, but she will rubberstamp this pipeline and roll back 40 years of Pinelands protections,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Only a year and a half ago she and her staff determined the pipeline wasn’t a private development and didn’t serve the Pinelands. Now she has completely reversed herself on that decision without any new information and it’s the same application. This pipeline still violates the Comprehensive Management Plan and the Forest Preservation Act. Wittenberg is clearly more concerned about South Jersey Gas than protecting the Pinelands.”

At the Pinelands Commission, South Jersey Gas told the Commission the project meets Pinelands regulations because it is a private development for use only within the Pinelands. Before the BPU, the company is saying the project is a necessity and should be paid for by the ratepayers as it will serve the region and is part of their resiliency plan to service portions of Cape May outside of the Pinelands. The purpose of the pipeline is to build a new gas fired power plant at the B.L. England site. They are saying the electricity is for use within the Pinelands when the power goes into the PJM grid and can go anywhere. Two years ago the same Pinelands Commission staff and Executive Director determined this pipeline wasn’t a private development and didn’t primarily meet the needs of the Pinelands. Wittenberg has changed her position without any additional proof by South Jersey Gas.

"This process is a stealth attack on the Pinelands," said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. "This is an end run around the independence of the Pinelands Commission. Pinelands staff is not only shutting out the public but also the Pinelands Commission members themselves. This is the same application on the same route, and yet there will be no public Pinelands hearing or Commission vote. This is a travesty in the Pines."

Wittenberg has no new evidence to support her decision that the B.L. England plant or the pipeline is serving the Pinelands. South Jersey Gas has told the BPU the pipeline will improve reliability outside of the Pinelands and during bad weather or an emergency the Pinelands would not get the gas. They are saying it’s a public use so they can get ratepayer money to pay for it. Based on that representation alone, it doesn’t meet the definition of private development that Wittenberg now says it does. The pipeline still violates the Compressive Management Plan, and the Forest Protection Area.

“This action is bizarre and unlawful on several grounds,” stated Carleton Montgomery, executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. “The Commission has previously found that the same pipeline for the same purposes violates the Comprehensive Management Plan. The new Certificate gives no explanation of how the pipeline could suddenly have become consistent, given that neither the project nor the rules have changed. This action is a severe blow to the integrity of the Pinelands Commission.”

Based on the current transmission system, the electricity generated by the B.L. England plant would go to Atlantic City and other communities outside the Pinelands. South Jersey Gas has stated that 14 miles of the line will serve as a back-up to service in Cape May County and parts of Atlantic County. In their March 11, 2013 BPU petition South Jersey Gas states that “much of the load growth has been in the east (Atlantic County) and southeast (Cape May County) parts of its service territory,” areas whose most densely populated municipalities are outside the Pinelands region.

“The Pinelands Commissioners have been neutered. Elbowed aside and stripped of their responsibility to preserve, protect and enhance the Pinelands by Executive Director Wittenberg. One foul swoop, changes the pipeline application from public to private, and pretends the communities in the Pines will get the electricity and voila a pipeline is delivered by South Jersey Gas. Slam Dunk, but not end of story,” said Georgina Shanley, resident of Ocean City.

The South Jersey Gas transmission system supplies the local distribution systems for Atlantic City and the City of Cape May and almost all of the gas in the pipeline can be expected to go to those areas, not the Pinelands. We believe this pipeline will serve areas in Cape May County exclusively outside the Pinelands Commission’s jurisdiction.

“These dirty deeds usually happen in the middle of the summer so the public doesn’t notice. This shows the arrogance of Wittenberg, the Christie Administration and South Jersey Gas who have been working together to push this pipeline through all along,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.“Wittenberg is blatantly ignoring the facts and changed the rules of the Pinelands Commission to get the outcome South Jersey Gas wants. She has been pushing this pipeline all along and the rules haven’t changed. Her decision will cause an ugly scar through the Pinelands and create environmental damage along the way. The pipeline will threaten one of the largest sources of drinking water on the east coast. Wittenberg has pushed the pipeline only to protect the Christie Administration, whose interest is to protect gas companies instead of the environment. Wittenberg does the dirty deed for the dirty pipeline.”

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