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Conservation groups start campaign against South Jersey Gas Pipeline in Pine Barrens


TRENTON - Today at the Statehouse in Trenton, New Jersey Conservation Foundation and other environmental groups launched a campaign to fight the South Jersey Gas pipeline being pushed through the Pinelands.

These groups have won significant battles for the Pinelands in the past, including the battle for the Pinelands Act 40 years ago and blocking pipelines more recently. Now they come together again to fight the latest threat to New Jersey's unique ecosystem: a pipeline that the state Pinelands Commission's Executive Director Nancy Wittenberg is trying to sneakily push through.

Two years ago, the Pinelands Commission voted down South Jersey Gas's (SJG) pipeline and now they're back. Wittenberg is playing games with the rules and the facts to try and do SJG's bidding. This will prevent public input or hearings. The Pinelands Commission won't even have a vote on it. The campaign launched today will be run to stop the pipeline from going through the Pinelands.

"The Pinelands Commission staff is violating its own rules. They are ignoring procedure, the public process, and even side-stepping the Pinelands Commissioners themselves," said Emile DeVito, Ph.D., of New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

"The South Jersey Gas pipeline proposal still violates the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan, it was correctly voted down by the Pinelands Commissioners in January 2014; nothing has changed," DeVito added. "Certain projects are prohibited by the Pinelands CMP for a good reason: protection has to last forever. If we ignore the plan's prohibitions, the Pinelands Commission loses its integrity, and long-term protection of our one-of-a-kind New Jersey Pine Barrens will be impossible. This is an inexplicable reversal by Pinelands Commission staff that should not be allowed to stand."

"Together we can stop this destructive pipeline from cutting a scar through the Pinelands. We stopped it once before and we can stop it again. Even though Governor Christie is up in New Hampshire, he's still trying to destroy the Pinelands with this pipeline. Christie's appointee Pineland Commission's Executive Director Nancy Wittenberg is playing games with the rules and the facts to try and do SJG's bidding. This is an abuse of power and she's violating her own management plan and rules. She said one thing two years ago and now reversed herself and has taken away the rights of the public and the rights of the Commissioners from having a voice on this destructive pipeline. If they can build this pipeline, they can build the New Jersey Natural Gas Pipeline and even more. This is a sellout of the Pinelands and the Pinelands Act," said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. "We will be joining together to fight this pipeline as we have fought to preserve the Pinelands in the past. We've saved the Pinelands before and we can do it again!"

The South Jersey Gas pipeline was denied two years ago but has been brought back around by Wittenberg. Last Friday, she tried to push the South Jersey Gas Pipeline through by reversing a previous decision. Two years ago the pipeline was considered private development and not for use exclusively in the Pinelands. It was voted down by the Pinelands Commissions. Now Wittenberg has reversed that decision and made it so she is the only one giving the pipeline the right of way. Wittenberg's flip-flop means that there would be no public hearing, public input, or vote by the Pinelands Commission on this destructive pipeline.

"Pipelines are inherently damaging and dangerous projects. You have to destroy huge tracts of land just to install one, and then spend taxpayer money to constantly make sure that there aren't any technical problems. A break in a pipeline, a small leak, a flaw in the design and construction of one component, means an environmental disaster that will take years to overcome. We cannot allow our State to continue bearing these huge scars in exchange for what amounts to little benefit over time," said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-15).

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.

"From a major jetport to pipelines, the Pinelands has prevailed after each development battle and remains an international natural treasure to this day. For over thirty years the Pinelands National Reserve survived these battles as a result of political leaders and agency staff supporting the rules, and the public fighting against inappropriate development. The Pinelands Commission Executive Director may not support the rules after reversing her decision on South Jersey Gas, but past and present political leaders and the public do! We can continue to win the battle before all of us today against two pipelines that threaten the integrity of the Pinelands rules and natural resources if our voices continue to be heard. It is critical that the public contact their local, state, and federal leaders to say - Protect the Pinelands, Support the Rules, and Say No to South Jersey Gas and New Jersey Natural Gas proposed pipelines," said Jaclyn Rhoads, Pinelands Preservation Alliance.

Wittenberg's decision would cut the public out of having a say in what happens to our state's unique Pinelands.
"The public doesn't deserve to be sucker punched over preserving the Pinelands," said Doug O'Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. "This is an end run around the independence of the Pinelands Commission and gives a black eye to the Commission's integrity. Executive Director Wittenberg is not only shutting out the public but also the Pinelands Commission members themselves in a brazen show of executive overreach. This is the same pipeline on the same route, and yet there will be no public Pinelands hearing or Commission vote. This is a travesty in the Pines, but this fight certainly isn't over. The measure of a man is not whether he can throw a punch, but whether he can take one. New Jerseyans aren't down for the count in the fight to save the Pinelands, and we're going to go down swinging. The fight to preserve the integrity of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan is a fight worth having."

The rally is a campaign launch that will include asking local governments to pass resolutions opposing the pipeline, canvassing and passing out flyers and creating petitions and writing letters. The groups will also be asking Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to step in and protect the Pinelands National Reserve from this violation of the rules and disastrous pipeline.

Wittenberg has no new evidence to support her decision that the pipeline or the B.L. England plant is serving the Pinelands. It's the same pipeline in the same place and it still violates the Comprehensive Management Plan in the Forest Preservation Area.

"The fight to protect the Pinelands from the dangers of fossil fuel development may be heating up, but it's certainly not new. For years now, countless residents of this region have been working with community organizations, grassroots groups and elected officials to stop these hazardous pipelines," said Lena Smith, South Jersey Organizer for Food & Water Watch. "Despite the overwhelming outcry, Nancy Wittenberg has entrenched herself with Governor Christie and polluting oil and gas companies by underhandedly approving a new pipeline. She should be removed from her post and replaced with someone who will respect the integrity of the Pinelands and the will of the people. Since that person isn't in place, we need Department of Interior Secretary Jewell to stop Wittenberg's assault on the Pinelands and end this pipeline plan once and for all."

This decision puts the future of the Pinelands at stake and dismantles 40 years of Pinelands protections. It is not just about the pipeline; it will undo a successful growth management plan. It will threaten a U.N Biosphere Reserve known for its biodiversity. The pipeline would create irreversible harm to wetlands, streams, damaging important open spaces, and threaten our water supply. It will threaten one of the largest sources of fresh drinking water on the east coast.

"The gravity of what just transpired at this last Pinelands Commission meeting cannot be overstated, where the Executive Director yanked the rug from under the Commissioners, in a sense, taking it upon herself to rewrite the rules and relieve them of their duties, as well as cutting the public out of the process. Nancy Wittenberg and those pushing for this pipeline have made a mockery of the Pinelands Commission and in fact, by her actions, she has made a mockery of democracy. How can there be any decorum, any sense of decency, when someone whose duty it is to protect the people's commons, the Pinelands National Reserve, lay it bare to be filleted like a hapless fish," said Margo Pellegrino, New Jersey Paddling Activist.

The people of New Jersey have made it clear that they don't want this dangerous and dirty pipeline in our Pinelands. Thousands of people testified against this pipeline and the commissioners voted it down last year. Now they are rallying together to fight this, and any pipeline, that threatens our Pinelands.

"Wittenburg's sneaky flip flop to be kind on this massive, new, dirty, dangerous pipeline through the internationally renowned New Jersey Pinelands is a travesty at every level -- environmentally, legally, economically, morally, institutionally... And we will fight to stop it in every way we can! It's our drinking water, future and so much more," said David Pringle, NJ Campaign Director, Clean Water Action.

Today we begin another battle to protect our Pinelands.

"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. We will use this campaign to stop SJG from ruining the Pinelands!"

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