Even after a press conference that passed the 2-hour mark, where New Jersey Governor Chris Christie continued to push the long-discredited idea that the closure of two lanes of the George Washington Bridge may have been part of a traffic study, it was unclear what role the Governor himself may have played in the scandal. But it’s certainly not the first time Christie has been accused of using questionable methods to get ahead politically. And that’s certainly evident in the battle over a natural gas pipeline through New Jersey’s protected Pinelands.
The Pinelands National Reserve was the nation’s first national reserve when it was created in 1978, covers over one million acres of southern New Jersey, and contains an aquifer estimated to hold 17 trillion gallons of water. The Pinelands Commission, the state agency that oversees the reserve, is tasked with only allowing infrastructure that is “intended to primarily serve the needs of the Pinelands,” to be built inside. However, South Jersey Gas is offering $8 million to the commission to get them to approve 22 miles of pipeline that would carry natural gas to the BL England power plant. The Pinelands Preservation Alliance has proposed alternate routes that would not affect the Pinelands.
Four former New Jersey governors wrote to the Pinelands Commission to oppose the pipeline.
Edward Lloyd is an environmental law professor at Columbia University, and a member of the Pinelands Comission who had been asking difficult questions about the proposed pipeline, though he had not openly opposed it. Early in December he got a call from a deputy attorney general saying his position as president of the Eastern Environmental Law Center’s board of directors meant he should recuse himself. The Law Center had sent a letter asking for another public meeting on the pipeline. Then, he got a call from the Pinelands Commission’s ethics lawyer. “On orders of the governor’s office,” she said, according to Lloyd as reported in the New York Times “I went to the State Ethics Commission and they have ordered you to recuse yourself.” The State Ethics Commission’s executive director Peter Tober denied making that order to the Times. The commission is expected to vote Friday, and Mr. Lloyd is as yet unsure whether he will recuse himself.
You don’t have to look far back to see the potential hazards of a pipeline spill or explosion. 2013 saw several huge ones, including a gas pipeline explosion in Milford, Texas that led to the evacuation of the entire town of 700 people. A 30-inch gas pipeline in rural Missouri exploded late last year, sending a fireball 300 feet into the air that could be seen for miles. It destroyed seven buildings and left a “smoldering moon-like crater” behind.
As a Times of Trenton editorial said, “a natural gas explosion and fire in the Pine Barrens could be disastrous.”
Even though sea level rise makes the storm surges from big coastal storms like Sandy more dangerous, the governor is not serious about addressing climate change. Christie withdrew New Jersey from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a coalition of Northeast states cutting car and power plant pollution, along with greenhouse gas emissions. He called it too costly, while keeping the tens of millions of dollars he took from the fund to help close a budget gap. But a lawsuit from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environment New Jersey could require the state to go back to RGGI levels of carbon emissions.
The New Jersey Senate is also attempting to use constitutional amendments to force Christie’s hand and get the state back into the RGGI.