Fighting A Pipeline, But Feeling And Fearing Christie’s Influence

Fighting A Pipeline, But Feeling And Fearing Christie’s Influence

This is important, and likely to get lost in all the uproar over Christie and the GW Bridge. It's his plan to ram a pipeline through the ecologically important Pine Barrens, something four previous New Jersey governors oppose. The vote is tomorrow, and it sure looks like Christie's trying to fix the vote. From the New York Times:

As it happens, those who dust for the governor’s fingerprints have found another hardball example in southern New Jersey. The South Jersey Gas Company wants to thread a 22-mile-long pipeline through the heart of the Pinelands, a 1.1-million-acre protected expanse of scrub pines, gnarly oaks and yellow-brown river deltas.

The Pinelands Commission, a state agency, oversees this reserve, which includes a trillion-gallon aquifer that provides freshwater to residents. Board members traditionally have treated proposals to trespass into this reserve with deep skepticism.

But the Christie administration badly wants this pipeline, and has crafted a highly unusual agreement. The gas company has offered to pay $8 million to the commission. The commission staff members, who are state employees, have blessed the project. And the law firm of the governor’s good friend David Samson — the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — is representing the power plant that would receive the gas.

Still, the governor faces a tough battle. New Jersey is densely settled, and its residents take seriously the defense of their green spaces. Four of his predecessors — the Republicans Christine Todd Whitman and Thomas H. Kean, and the Democrats James J. Florio and Brendan T. Byrne — together wrote a letter of opposition to the commission.

“The current proposal,” they wrote, “would compromise the integrity of the Pinelands Plan and serve to encourage future development.”

On the commission itself, Edward Lloyd, an environmental law professor at Columbia University, loomed as a formidable roadblock. Mr. Lloyd, 65, had not taken a position but he had asked tough penetrating questions.

On Dec. 6, a deputy attorney general called Mr. Lloyd. We have a letter, the deputy told him, from the nonprofit Eastern Environmental Law Center asking the Pinelands Commission to hold another public meeting on this proposal. You are president of this center’s board of directors, and we think this is a conflict of interest.


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Mr. Lloyd noted that he had not heard of this letter and that a public meeting request should not represent a conflict of interest. (The law center has withdrawn the letter.)

The deputy attorney general told Mr. Lloyd that he could appeal to the Pinelands Commission’s ethics lawyer. Mr. Lloyd was working on that appeal when his phone rang. It was the ethics officer.

“She said, ‘Don’t shoot the messenger, but on orders of the governor’s office, I went to the State Ethics Commission and they have ordered you to recuse yourself.’ ”

Mr. Lloyd was taken aback. “I thought to myself, ‘The governor’s office?’ That’s remarkable.”

Mr. Lloyd could refuse to recuse himself. But he could face fines of thousands of dollars. “That’s a lot of money if I guess wrong,” he noted.

From here, the case grows murkier still. On Wednesday I called the attorney general’s office, and a spokesman, Leland Moore, sent an email reply: We advised Mr. Lloyd to recuse himself, he noted, and recommended that he consult with the State Ethics Commission.

The Ethics Commission, Mr. Moore noted, “apparently made the same determination.”

I called the Ethics Commission, and its executive director said this was not true. “We haven’t made such a determination,” said Peter Tober, the executive director. “It came from the attorney general or the Pinelands ethics officer.”

So I called the Pinelands Commission. It was 3:40 p.m. The ethics officer, I was told, was gone for the day.

The commission votes on the pipeline on Friday and the vote is expected to be very close. All that’s left, as Mr. Lloyd noted in an email from China, where he is traveling, is to decide — in light of the news from the Ethics Commission — whether he should vote.

And to wonder what may happen if he crosses a governor who pays very close attention.

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