Environmentalists Rally to Save the Pinelands
Trenton, NJ--Today, Clean Water Action joined the Pinelands Preservation Alliance and other environmental groups on the steps of the capitol for a Rally to Protect the Pinelands, presenting thousands of petitions to Governor Murphy urging him to reform the Pinelands Commission. Clean Water Action issued the following statement:
There are places on this earth that are so unique and special, they could be called sacrosanct; never to be used for corporate, commercial, or industrial purpose or gain.
The Pinelands is one of those places. It’s now up to Governor Philip Murphy to make sure it stays that way by naming new members to the Pinelands Commission and changing its leadership.
The Pinelands Commission is a 15-member volunteer, quasi-judicial body mandated to “preserve, protect, and enhance” the Pinelands National Preserve. The Pinelands’ biodiversity is unmatched on the planet and it holds the distinction of being a World Biosphere and Unesco site.
Its preservation is integral for safe drinking water for hundreds of thousands of South Jersey residents. Seventeen trillion gallons of pristine water flows through the Kirkwood Cohansey aquifer underneath the Pinelands. If South Jersey Natural Gas has its way, miles of high pressure pipeline would be horizontally drilled beneath streams, rivers, and wetlands that just about run their entire length along the aquifer. Horizontal drilling, a technique used in fracking to extract natural gas, can cause harmful chemicals to enter drinking water supplies and disrupt the natural flow of underground water.
The Kirkwood-Cohansey is a sole source aquifer. If one portion of it is contaminated, it affects the whole aquifer. It’s also very shallow so that what happens on land has a big impact on what happens below.
Seven of the 15 members are gubernatorial appointments that must be approved by the state Senate. Seven are appointments made by Freeholders in each of the counties within the Pinelands. And one is a federal appointment by the U.S. secretary of the Interior.
Today, all seven gubernatorial appointments are holdovers from the Christie Administration, two of which have voted in favor of the controversial 22-mile, high-pressure pipeline through the Pinelands protected forest preserve. The commission continues to be led by Burlington County’s Lumberton Committeeman Sean Earlen, a Christie appointee and pipeline supporter. The pipeline approval was precendent setting, and opened the forest doors to industrialization.
The Christie-backed Pinelands commissioners apparently either didn’t comprehend the importance of the Pinelands as a drinking water source, or chose to ignore it.
But, this can be stopped.
Clean Water Action, along with its environmental partners, is urging Governor Murphy to use his power to make new appointments to the commission, and to change its leadership.
The Pinelands are sacrosanct. Anyone who does not realize or defend that position does not deserve to be a Pinelands Commissioner.
The area has a rich and varied history from being a refuge for Quakers kicked out of meetings for fighting in the American Revolution. Sawmills once dotted the area and cranberry bogs still stretch through it. The Hindenberg crashed here.
But, it was a regional plan for a “supersonic jetport” larger than JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark airports combined that was a gamechanger in the 1960’s. John McPhee reported on the plan in “New Yorker” magazine, which was then published as a thin volume called “The Pine Barrens.” The world’s eyes were opened to the Pinelands’ unique beauty and biodiversity.
By the late 1970’s, the legalization of gambling in Atlantic City placed great pressure on the area for development for housing and commerce.
The late former Governor Brendan Byrne saw that this large portion of unspoiled land stretching through portions of Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, and Ocean counties would soon by eaten by developers. Byrne worked with Congress and the Pinelands was legislatively designated in 1978 as the country’s first National Preserve. In 1979, Governor Byrne signed the Pinelands Preservation Act, placing the area under strict protections with the Pinelands Commission as its administrator.
Succeeding governors followed Byrne’s path, passing legislation to add acreage and by appointing commissioners who would uphold the Pinelands plan. For over 40 years, the Pinelands Commission operated without political interference, and members carried out their mission as staunch defenders of this unique preserve.
That changed during the Christie Administration.
In 2014, South Jersey Natural Gas marched in with a plan for 22-mile high-pressure pipeline through the Pineland’s protected forest preserve, where development is strictly limited. After much political maneuvering, including removal of commissioners who opposed the pipeline, the project was approved. It is now tied up in court.