To a corrupt man, public projects and funds represent an irresistible opportunity to use them for political gain.
In a cascade of revelations comes the allegation that Christie may have used extraordinary means in an attempt to push a ten-mile gas pipeline project through a sensitive protected national reserve to benefit a top Christie political operative under the guise of being a Public Good which is the only way the land could have been considered for the project.
Christie went so far as to force a Pinelands commissioner--an environmental law professor--to recuse himself from the vote.
One commissioner opposing the pipeline, Edward Lloyd, recused himself from the vote. He told ThinkProgress he first got a call from the state Attorney General’s office on Friday, December 6, informing him that an organization he is the co-director of, the Eastern Environmental Law Center, had written a letter to the Pinelands Commission asking for another public hearing on the pipeline, and that because of the letter, Lloyd would have to recuse himself from the vote. Lloyd said that he didn’t agree that it constituted a conflict of interest, and was told to check with the Pinelands Commission’s ethics liaison, Stacey Roth.This extraordinary effort to remove Lloyd from the Pinelands Commission went forward even though two other commissioners had financial ties to oil and gas industries.
He called Monday, December 9, and Roth informed him he’d have to take it up either with the attorney general’s office or the State Ethics Commission, an independent state entity. “On Thursday the 12th,” Lloyd said, ” I got a call from Stacey. ‘Don’t shoot the messenger,’ she said, ‘but on the order of the governor’s office I went to the state ethics commission, and they ordered you to recuse yourself.’” But the ethics commission had made no such order. When the New York Times spoke to its executive director, he said the Ethics Commission had not “made such a determination.” In multiple calls to Stacey Roth’s office for clarification, she was said to be “unavailable” with no future availability given.
Wolfe attempted to raise the issue that two members of the Pinelands Commission had financial connections to the oil and gas industry. Executive Director Wittenberg said both counsel and the ethics liaison had looked at that possibility and found no conflict. “You can’t hold stock in oil and gas companies and be impartial,” Wolfe said.Despite his machinations, Christie lost.
The New Jersey Pinelands Commission voted Friday to reject a pipeline that would have crossed 10 miles of protected national reserve to supply a coastal power plant with natural gas. And the fact that David Samson, a Christie appointee who is also connected to the George Washington Bridge scandal, is the lawyer for the plant that would have received power may have caused the pipeline to clear several obstacles towards approval too easily, and even led the governor’s office to play a role in intimidating a Pinelands Commissioner into recusing himself from voting against it.
The vote was split 7 to 7 which denies the variance to allow the pipeline through the nature forested nature preserve.
South Jersey Gas was sad. (Lots of sadness in NJ going around these days.)
"We are disappointed, particularly for our customers in Cape May County, that the [variance to allow the work] was not approved," said South Jersey Gas spokesman Dan Lockwood. "At this point, we need to review our options and determine what our next steps will be."The 100 protestors and potential pipeline workers at the meeting had a suggestion for those "next steps".
The proposed Upper Township plant was to have replaced the coal-fired plant operated by B.L. England Corp. at Beesley Point, which has for decades violated state air pollution standards. The state Department of Environmental Protection has endorsed the project on those grounds.All politics are local.
"We would like to see the Beesley plant cleaned up and jobs created," said Denver Westphal, 38, a pipeline supporter, Vincentown resident, and union pipe fitter who hoped to find work on the project.
"I want to put my group to work through the conversion of the Beesley plant from coal to gas," said James Kehoe, president of the New Jersey State Association of Pipe Trades, who was disappointed by Friday's vote.
Commission Lloyd, who had recused himself under strong arm tactics from the Governor's office, had a statement read before the vote which reiterated his conviction that he had no conflict of interest.
He also said he was awaiting a response from the state Ethics Commission on the issue. "I guess I did feel my arm was twisted," Lloyd said Friday.Lastly, among the protestors, there was a woman after my own heart.
At the commission meeting, pipeline opponent Temma Fishman, 73, of Medford Lakes, wore a muzzle with Lloyd's name on it to protest Lloyd's recusal.UPDATE 2
Governor Christie may have little joy in his inauguration today as shoes pile up outside his door (forgive me!) and his public support continues to erode.
Here is video coverage of Occupy Sandy as they continue their Occupation across from the statehouse.
Trenton 'occupied' in Protest of Sandy Aid Scandal