Pinelands Commission rejects South Jersey Gas Pipeline to protect region

Pinelands in a boatOn Jan 10 2014, the members of the New Jersey Pinelands Commission stood up to project this important region for future generations. In a 7 to 7 vote the Commissioners rejected an Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that would have allowed a brand new South Jersey Gas Pipeline across a region that provides drinking water to millions of state residents. The pipeline would have brought more polluting fossil fuels into the Pinelands along with impacts to forests, wetlands, and waterways. The pipeline would have kept the antiquated BL England plant up and running and with this vote today the region will be able to breathe easier with reduced air pollution impacts.

“This is a great victory for the Pinelands and the environment of the region. This is a victory for democracy over bullying, a victory for the Pinelands and more important, for the people. This is the biggest environmental victory under the Christie administration. The Commissioners did not caving to polluters and special interests. Today the Commissioners said the Pinelands are not for sale,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We are proud the Commissioners did their job to protect the Pinelands region, its water supply, and its unique ecosystem from a polluting fossil fuel pipeline. Even with all the bullying and arm twisting, protection of the environment prevailed. With this vote today the Commissioners stood up to protect the Pinelands, ensured better air quality for the region, stopped dirty energy in the region, stopped the potential for LNG exports, and shut down the BL England plant.”

The Commissioners voted down the use of an MOA for the project. Under the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) the Commission can only enter into an MOA with government agencies for projects they are constructing. Opponents of the pipeline have long challenged the legality of entering an MOA with the BPU for the project since the project is being built by a private company, South Jersey Gas, and the BPU is the regulator, not the entity responsible for the project. In exchange for this special exception, SJG was offering the Commission $8 million for mitigation and education projects.

“This is David vs. Goliath, the people and the public good vs. special interests and political patrons. Today the people won and we need to celebrate these victories,” said Tittel.

The ill-conceived project is widely opposed. Four former New Jersey Governors and a number of state legislators had come out in opposition based on concerns with the legality of using an MOA for project approval, the lack of a proven compelling need for the project, the existence of alternatives that do not violate Pinelands regulations, and the lack of public process in the proceedings. Newspapers across the region have written editorials in opposition based on the significant negative impacts associated with the project. The Pinelands Commission received thousands of letters (over 1600 during the official comment period and many more beforehand) and petitions in opposition to the project and hundreds of people spoke out against the project at public hearings before the Commission.

Instead of refueling with fossil fuels, Sierra Club would like to see the site used for clean energy production. This would create jobs and clean energy, improving the environment and economy of the region. Given the location, this would be a great location for infrastructure related to offshore wind production.

“We are glad the Pinelands Commission did their job- protecting the Pinelands region for future generations and not allowing the region to be destroyed for private developments. The Commission upheld the protections that people have worked for so long and so hard to put in place. Despite efforts by Commission staff to ram this project through without full evaluation of the environmental impacts, the Commissioners demanded a higher standard for the Pinelands region,” said Jeff Tittel.

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