Pinelands Commission Appointments

Governor Christie replaced a Pinelands Commissioner who stood up to the political pressure and voted to defend the Pinelands by voting against the South Jersey Gas/Rockland Capital pipeline deal. This move threatens the Pinelands and the integrity and independence of all Commissions.

 

As Senator Nia Gill (D-Essex) noted at the February 24, 2015 Senate Judiciary Committee meeting,---“This is about power. This is about saying to people if you disagree with Governor Christie, you will be removed. . . Because to challenge the Governor means that we will make sure that you do not serve.”

In January 2014 the Commission declined to pass a resolution that would have waived the rules that protect the Pinelands and allowed South Jersey Gas to build the pipeline (click here to review South Jersey Gas Application pipeline page). This was a HUGE victory for the environment. The final vote was tied 7-7 and they needed 8 votes in favor for the project to move forward.

But the Pinelands Commission is under a lot of pressure to overturn this decision. So far two Commissioners who voted against the South Jersey Pipeline project have been replaced. Who is next?

Timeline of Events

  • In March 2014 South Jersey Gas appealed the Commission’s decision on the South Jersey Gas pipeline project to the Superior Court of New Jersey. This appeal is still pending.
  • In March 2014 Senator Jeff Van Drew calls the Pinelands Commission decision "wrongheaded" and says that a "compelling public need waiver" might be sought in a March 31, 2014 article by the Philadelphia Inquirer. That same article lists Senate President Steve Sweeney and Governor Christie as supporters of the pineline despite the Commission vote. Read this article here.
  • In April 2014 Cumberland County removed a crucial ‘no’ vote by replacing Leslie Ficcaglia as the Cumberland County representative on the Commission (click here to read Pinelands Watch Issue #68).
  • In May 2014 Governor Christie made nominations to replace two of the Pinelands Commissioners, Robert Jackson and D’Arcy Rohan Green, who stood up to the political pressure and voted against the South Jersey Gas/Rockland Capital pipeline deal.
  • In October 2014 and January 2015, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings and questioned the governor’s nominees - Robert Barr to replace Robert Jackson and Dennis Roohr to replace D’Arcy Rohan Green. But the Judiciary Committee took no action on the nominees. It is important to note that Robert Barr was recommended as a nominee by Senator Jeff Van Drew.

What happened next?

The Senate Judiciary has to approve a Pinelands Commission nominee in order for him/her to move on to a vote by the full Senate. By January 2015 the Governor's nominees to the Commission still didn't have the votes to move on to the full Senate. Then in a hastily called Judiciary Committee meeting on February 24, 2015 (which violated the Senate's own requirements for public notice) another vote on Barr's nomination was taken and passed by one vote.

Even worse than the hastily called Judiciary Committee meeting is the fact that Senate President Sweeney chose to replace a committee member, Senator Lesniak (who was vacationing), with Senator Van Drew. Senator Lesniak has been an outspoken advocate against the pipeline and the nomination of Robert Barr. Senator Van Drew, as mentioned above, is an outspoken supporter of the pipeline. Senator Lesniak tried to return in time for the vote but by then he had already be replace by Senator Van Drew and it was Senator Van Drew's vote that passed Barr out of the Judiciary Committee.

On March 16, 2015 the Senate session was held. PPA and many of the other major environmental groups in New Jersey came dressed in green shirts to push New Jersey's Senators to oppose the nomination of Robert Barr. Over 70 people attended that day.

Senate President Sweeney called for a vote on the nomination of Robert Barr to the Pinelands Commission early in the session. At that point five Senators stood and spoke out passionately against this nomination in support of the Pinelands.

 

Our thanks go out to Senators Smith, Lesniak, Gill, Bateman and Beck for their eloquent defense of the Pinelands and for urging their fellow Senators to vote "no" on this nomination.

Senate President Sweeney then called the vote. The vote was 19 in favor and 18 against with 3 not voting. 21 votes were needed to advance this nomination. Seeing that the vote was not going as he intended Senator Sweeney tabled the roll call vote and said the vote on the nomination of Robert Barr may come up later in the session.

One hour later Senate President Sweeney called for another vote on the nomination of Robert Barr. Since not all the Senators voted in the first roll call vote (including the Senate President) and there were not enough votes to confirm the nomination - the Senate President, at his discretion, may invalidate the roll call by withdrawing the nomination until he is assured he has a majority in favor of what he wanted to do. And that is indeed what happened. This time the vote was 21 in favor and 17 opposed and two not voting. Robert Barr was approved as a new member of the Pinelands Commission replacing former Commissioner Robert Jackson.

First we won, then we lost?

Senator Sweeney withheld his vote originally (reserving his right to nullify if he could not get a majority in favor). During the second vote he voted in favor of the nomination and Senator Joe Pennacchio (R-26) changed his vote from against the nomination in the first round to in favor of the nomination in the second round. There was an hour in between votes where something changed Senator Pennacchio’s mind.

Not one Senator spoke out in favor of the nomination.


ACTION ITEM

Find out how your Senator voted then call them and thank them for their support OR tell them you are disappointed and that you expect them to support the Pinelands in the future.

Click here to see how your Senator voted during the March 16, 2015 session.

Find your Senator and his or her phone number here.

Check out the documents PPA obtained through an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request related to the Commission and the South Jersey Gas pipeline project.


More Information: What is the Pinelands Commission?

The Pinelands Commission is made up of 15 Commissioners:

  • One member is appointed by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior
  • One member appointed by each of the seven counties with land in the Pinelands (Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Ocean.
  • The remaining seven seats are filled by the Governor subject to review and consent of the New Jersey Senate.

Members of the Commission serve staggered three-year terms. The Governor also appoints the Chairperson.

Pinelands Commissioners have final say with regards to all development activities regulated by the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP). The federal legislation states, “The membership of the planning entity shall include residents of the Pinelands National Reserve who represent economic activities such as agriculture in the area, as well as residents of New Jersey who represent conservation interests.” Commissioners serve without compensation.

Latest news coverage:

Four former NJ Governors urge rejection of Pinelands nominee, Philadelphia Inquirer, March 3, 2015

Christie, Sweeney scam on Pinelands could spell disaster, Star Ledger, Editorial Board March 1, 2015

Editorial: Preserve Integrity of the Pinelands, Asbury Park Press, February 26, 2015
*scathing description of the underhanded way Barr's nomination was handled by the Sen. Judiciary Committee

Sweeney defends role in Pinelands Commission flap, Asbury Park Press, February 27, 2015

Check out the documents PPA obtained through an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request related to the Commission and the South Jersey Gas pipeline project.

Hear Senators on Judiciary Speak Out Against Barr during Feb. 24th meeting - see below.


Click here to see all the press coverage of this issue.

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