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Hope and Worry As Governor Nominates Six for the Pinelands Commission

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

by Carleton Montgomery, Executive Director

Governor Christie has submitted six nominations for the Pinelands Commission to the state Senate, which must confirm the nominations before they become effective.  The nominees are:

Candace McKee Ashmun of Bedminster, who has served on the commission since its creation in 1979 and is the only sitting Commissioner to be renominated.

De Arcy Rohan Green, chair of the Bay Head Environmental Commission.

Mark S. Lohbauer of Pennsauken, a consultant on municipal redevelopment with the JGSC Group of Merchantville and a former Freeholder in Camden County.

Stephen V. Lee, III, a cranberry grower from Chatsworth who previously served on the Commission for many years before being replaced by governor Corzine.

Richard H. Prickett, a retired high school science teacher and member of the Pemberton Township Council.

Gary Quinn, mayor of Lacey Township and a self-described developer of residential and commercial properties.

(The seventh gubernatorial position on the Commissioner is occupied by Robert Jackson of Cape May County, whose term does not expire until 2012.)

While I am grateful that the governor has acted – the Commission has been hobbled by vacancies for years – and most of the nominations are good choices, I have some serious concerns:

1.      All the nominees are Republicans, indicating that the governor rejects the idea that the Pinelands is a bi-partisan effort.  The greatest strength of the Pinelands Commission is its bi-partisan culture.  Past governors have usually nominated more people of their own party, but have also nominated some people from the other party, and they have resisted efforts to the turn the Pinelands into a partisan political issue.

2.      The governor has not said which member of the Commission he will select as its Chair.  This is an important position, and it is critical he choose a conservation-minded individual with the skills to manage its meetings, build consensus, and keep the Commission on course.

3.      Ed Lloyd, a prominent environmental attorney who has served on the Commission for several years, was not renominated – perhaps because he is not a registered Republican or perhaps for some other reason.  The loss of his experience and expertise is a real blow to the Pinelands.

4.      Through his many years on the Commission, Steve Lee was almost always an adversary of PPA and an almost virulent critic of the Pinelands Commission’s outstanding science program.  He also never seemed to accept that voting on matters that would benefit or harm his business constituted a conflict of interest.  We often found ourselves questioning his genuine commitment to the fundamental environmental mission of the Pinelands program.  We hope that if confirmed he will come onto the Commission this time around with a new spirit of putting conservation first and business interests second in his work on the Commission.

5.      We do not know Gary Quinn, mayor of Lacey Township, but I am concerned that he does not seem to have any record of environmental interests.  On the internet, one can find him defending the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant (which, despite its record of radioactive leaks into ground water and a cooling system that wreaks significant destruction of life in Barnegat Bay, does enable Lacey to have very low property taxes and provides good jobs to the area).

Whenever new people are appointed to the Pinelands Commission, we greet their arrival with hope and worry, since the Commission controls the course of development and conservation across the Pinelands.  These emotions are particularly intense now because the governor is nominating five brand new people – one-third of the Commission’s members – in one go.

For a variety of reasons, the Pinelands Commission has lost the initiative in Pinelands protection.   It has relegated itself to a reactive role in which it has repeatedly waived environmental protections for the benefit of the development schemes of ambitious builders and ratable-chasing municipal leaders.  It has shelved good smart-growth policy initiatives to focus on making ad hoc deals and loosening environmental protections.

PPA hopes the new Commissioners will help the rest of the Commission and its new Executive Director, Nancy Wittenberg, to take back the initiative and set a new, conservation-focused course.

Gov-Elect Chris Christie’s Environmental Platform

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

by Carleton Montgomery, Executive Director

Is he for the environment or against it? Or will he try to split the baby – doing something here to please industry, something there to please conservationists?  Or will he just muddle along doing neither much harm nor much good for the environment? It’s impossible to say right now, but there are early grounds to be optimistic – and also grounds to be cautious.

Mr. Christie’ s environmental platform posted on his campaign web site is our principal grounds for optimism.  You can read the platform in Acrobat format by clicking here. Here are some highlights from the Christie election platform on the environment:

  • “Establish long-term funding source of open space.” In his platform, Mr. Christie says he will seek a constitutional amendment to dedicate a portion of the sale tax to open space preservation – though he does not say how much.
  • “Increase the number of acres annually preserved … especially in the Highlands and Pinelands.” The specific reference to the Pinelands may mean he sees the Pinelands as a region in which environmental protection should be the paramount public policy goal.
  • “Restor[e]… Barnegat Bay” by finding “a better way to control the nitrogen and phosphorous poisoning of the Barnegat Bay.” This statement suggests he understands that Barnegat Bay is in trouble, and new approaches are needed to stem the flow of nutrients into the Bay. We need to be cautious, though, because the platform does not suggest the new governor will support the kinds of dramatic new approaches that are really needed. So long as the Bay’s watershed continues to be covered with haphazard, sprawling residential subdivisions, then good measures like fertilizer order phentermine control rules will be overwhelmed by the added contaminants that come with more lawns, roofs and roads.
  • “Implement strategies for better cooling systems at Oyster Creek and Salem” nuclear power plants. The current system kills billions of aquatic organisms and heats the water, and it seems pretty clear that the only way to improve the system is to move to cooling towers. But the platform doesn’t say he will try to require towers, so we don’t know what it really means.
  • “Empower the rank and file” staff at DEP, “remove political considerations” from DEP permitting and regulatory actions, and “improve the scientific basis of regulatory decisions.” We can certainly point to cases where political pressures led state agencies to make bad decisions for the environment, so providing this kind of leadership for DEP and other agencies could be very positive. The problem is that it’s hard to see how the stated view squares with other things he has said attacking DEP for harming business with excessive rules.

And our grounds for worry?  Mr. Christie says he will remove regulatory burdens from business, reform DEP, drastically cut the state budget, and place a temporary moratorium on new environmental regulations. In the past, this kind of language from politicians usually meant removing environmental rules on construction and disabling state environmental agencies from doing their jobs – favoring one industry at the expense of other social goals and economic sectors that depend on a healthy environment.

But Chris Christie says he is going to be a different kind of politician. We’re here to help him do well by the Pinelands – and let you know if he doesn’t.


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