The NJ Pinelands Commission: How one of government’s most successful environmental bodies was overtaken by the fossil fuel industry.

On February 24, 60% of the commission’s fifteen member board voted in final support of the construction of a 15 mile natural gas pipeline through the heart of the New Jersey Pinelands. The vote was in spite of the vast majority of the approximately 800 in attendance, along with virtually all of the state’s environmental groups and four former governors, standing vehemently against it. Representing the culmination of a five year battle pitting environmentalists against the Chris Christie administration, the fossil fuel industry, and unions, the final vote was tallied literally over the shouts, chants and singing of the crowd.

This is the story of how the Pinelands Commission transformed from being a bipartisan governmental agency that faithfully enforces one of “the strongest state land-use legislation in the country,” to one that now votes at the behest of the fossil fuel industry, in direct opposition to public sentiment.

In 1978, the New Jersey Pinelands, also called the Pine Barrens, became the nation’s first National Reserve:

The [Pinelands Nature Reserve] is approximately 1.1 million acres and spans portions of seven counties and all or part of 56 municipalities. The reserve occupies 22% of New Jersey’s land area and it is the largest body of open space on the Mid-Atlantic seaboard between Richmond and Boston.


The reserve is home to dozens of rare plant and animal species and the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer system, which contains an estimated 17 trillion gallons of water.

(Not billions, trillions.)

In 1979, New Jersey passed the Pinelands Protection Act. The act was intended to assist one of the only remaining untouched regions in the state in its resistance to further development, as pressured by Atlantic City on the east and Philadelphia on the west. The act created the Pinelands Commission:

[The Pinelands Commission is an] independent state agency whose mission is to “preserve, protect, and enhance the natural and cultural resources of the Pinelands National Reserve, and to encourage compatible economic and other human activities consistent with that purpose.”…

In this cooperative intergovernmental scheme, all participants were to “preserve, protect, and enhance the resources of the Pinelands” and permit only that development that was consistent with that purpose.

In 1983, the United Nations declared the Pinelands an International Biosphere Reserve and in 1995, the UN called the Act and its Commission “still perhaps the strongest state land-use legislation in the country.” (According to environmental activist Bill Wolfe, the Highlands Act, that protects northern NJ and was based on the Pinelands Act, is “far stronger.”)

January 10, 2014: Pipeline defeated in 7-7 deadlock

Originally proposed by South Jersey Gas in July of 2012 (page 5), a draft Memorandum of Agreement between SJG and the Pinelands Commission was presented in December of 2013. The plan included an $8 million payout to the commission, including (page 14) $250,000 to build a “Pinelands education center” and $500,000 for the creation of “education or outreach based programs or initiatives.” The remaining $7.25 million was to be placed in a Land Acquisition account:

[A Land Acquisition account is to] fund the acquisition of land located adjacent to the site of the proposed pipeline project located in a Forest Area. If all of the identified lands have not been acquired after three years from the execution of this MOA by the last signatory, than any remaining funds also may be used for acquisition of lands in the southern forested portion of the Pinelands Area, i.e. south of the Atlantic City Expressway.

The Agreement was rejected by the board on January 10, 2014, in a 7-7 deadlock. As described in the next section, one anti-pipeline commissioner was forced to recuse himself. Two of those voting against the pipeline were Chris Christie appointees. One of those voting for it was a new commissioner appointed by his county exactly three days before the funeral of his anti-pipeline predecessor, around one month before the vote.

The vote occurred in the midst of the Bridgegate scandal and on the day of a dangerous ice storm.

(Details on the vote are on page 4, individual votes on 5-6.)

The rejection was encouraged by four former governors, two Democrats and two Republicans, in an unprecedented joint letter delivered to the commission a month before the vote. Each of the governors were intimately involved in the creation or maintenance of the Pinelands law:

Kean, as an assemblyman sponsored the law preserving the Pinelands, a measure Byrne signed into law. Florio, as a congressman, pushed through legislation adding federal protections to safeguard more than 1 million acres of the preserve. He later served as chairman of the Pinelands Commission. Whitman signed into law a long-term stable funding source for protection of open spaces…. Kean defeated Florio to win his first gubernatorial term. Whitman defeated Florio when he sought reelection after his first term.

Executive Director Nancy Wittenberg

In late 2010, Governor Christie appointed Nancy Wittenberg, the former head lobbyist of the NJ Builders Association, to be the Executive Director of the Pinelands Commission. Her starting salary was $135,000 and at the time, she professed a “passion and commitment for preserving New Jersey’s environment.”

Wittenberg’s staff inappropriately coordinated with both the Christie administration and South Jersey Gas, much of it without the knowledge of the board. During this time, the State Ethics Commission, on the “order of the governor’s office,” very questionably forced the recusal of an anti-pipeline board member from the critical January 2014 vote. Despite his absence, the pipeline was still narrowly defeated.

Three months later, seemingly in retribution, Chris Christie became the first governor in the commission’s history to veto the minutes from a monthly meeting: minutes which happened to contain the new budget providing the staff with its first raise in four years. Four months after that, something unexpected occurred at the August 2015 monthly meeting, whose agenda did not contain anything about the pipeline. As reported by the Pinelands Preservation Alliance:

In a stunning move the Executive Director of the Pinelands Commission decided she would not allow the matter to be submitted to the 15-member governing board of the Commission. She stated that the project complied with the rules [and therefore approval was only necessary by the state’s Board of Public Utilities]. On December 16, 2015 [the BPU] approved the petition from South Jersey Gas that would waive all municipal land use ordinances and regulations in relation to the construction of the pipeline.

The BPU vote was unanimous; conducted in only a few minutes and without debate. In addition:

BPU staff directed the board to consider only evidence provided under oath, which did not include comments given at public hearings and during comment periods by members of the public.

Numerous environmental groups appealed the decision and, in July of 2016, they gained the support of three of those same former governors, who this time filed an amicus brief to the courts, declaring Wittenberg overstepped her authority in a role intended only as advisory and administrative. (Although the fourth Republican governor did not sign the brief, he vocally supported the effort.)

On November 7, 2016, the day before Donald Trump was elected to the presidency, Wittenberg’s decision was struck down by the courts, who declared that she overstepped her bounds, forcing the decision back to the Pinelands Commission’s board. Among the court’s evidence was the amicus brief.

On February 17, 2017, one week before the final vote by the board, Wittenberg once again recommended passage.

Aside: So-called public comment:

Page 7 in Wittenberg’s recommendation report (abbreviated here on out as “WH-7“) states:

At its January 24, 2017 meeting, the Commission received public comment from approximately 130 individuals. Attendance initially exceeded capacity, and Commission staff collected a list of those waiting to enter, and allowed those people to enter as others left. All those wishing to attend the meeting were able to enter by approximately 12:30 P.M., and the Commission continued the meeting until past 5:00 P.M. to give all those who wished to speak an opportunity.

Hundreds of people were shut out of this so-called public meeting, possibly more than were on the inside. There were multiple reports of people being refused entry up to an hour before the scheduled start time. I, myself arrived right on time and was shut out. I was later offered entry as press, but declined in order to tell the story of those on the outside, where I livestreamed for three hours. Despite Wittenberg’s assertion, most of the crowd was forced to leave after enduring hours in the bitter cold and rain.

Robert Barr, pro-pipeline Chris Christie appointee

In January of 2016, two years after his “no” vote, Republican Commissioner Mark Lohbauer was demoted by Chris Christie from his five-year chairmanship.

In April and May of 2014, three members who voted against the pipeline in January were recommended for replacement with people known to be supportive of it. Two were nominated by the Governor. A fourth was replaced by her county’s freeholder board after 18 years of service.

(Similarly, in 2011, Christie replaced three environmentally friendly members of the Highlands Council, a commission created in 2004 to protect “a vital source of drinking water for more than half of New Jersey’s families, yielding approximately 379 million gallons of water daily.”)

One of Christie’s nominees was Robert Barr. His nomination first required passage through the NJ Senate Judiciary Committee, which twice failed. According to the Press of Atlantic City, “Barr professed last year during his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee to an intentional ignorance of the Pinelands.”

Before Barr’s third vote with the Committee, the same former governors wrote another joint letter, this time in opposition to Barr’s nomination. The letter was addressed to the now-current Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Ray Lesniak, who agreed with their assessment. However, Lesniak was shut out of the vote because it was scheduled to coincide with the final day of a planned personal vacation (in January 24, 2016). Lesniak was temporarily replaced by someone known to support Barr, resulting in the nomination passing by a 7-5 vote (with one abstention), sending it on to the full Senate.

On March 16, Barr’s nomination was defeated by the Senate by a vote of 19 in favor and 17 against (with a required threshold of 21). Less than one hour later, “Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and Senator Joe Pennacchio (R-26) added their ayes to the appointment,” pushing Barr over the edge and onto the commission.

Environmental impacts

This is Chris Christie’s New Jersey:

While there is no hydraulic fracturing in the state of New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie has repeatedly vetoed restrictions from importing fracking waste. He also passed a bill to privatize every water system in the state. If any water is polluted by that fantastically toxic fracking waste, the priorities of the remaining clean water will be determined by a profit motivated private corporation.

According to South Jersey Gas, the pipeline “will provide significant environmental improvements for[sic] the B.L. England generating station by transitioning it from coal to natural gas” and according to the plant’s owner, doing so will increase the plant’s efficiency by 27%.

But the environmental political action group NJ Sierra Club asserts that the NJ Department of Environmental Protection’s findings, as quoted by Wittenberg (WH-22), are based on misleading methodologies and that the plant, which was originally scheduled to shut down in 2007, remains open in an effort to avoid newer and more stringent environmental laws. The plant currently runs on coal for about two months out of the year. If converted to natural gas (which will result in its lease being extended by up to 20 years), it will run at least 350 days out of the year (WH-12, bottom), 24 hours a day, dramatically increasing overall emissions. Methane is also a greenhouse gas seventy times–not percent, times–more potent than the CO2 in coal, but the greenhouse pollution from methane largely happens at the extraction site, whereas, for coal, it is exclusively during combustion.

South Jersey Gas asserts that keeping the BLE plant running is “necessary to improve reliability” of energy in the Pinelands area and Richard Engel, a state deputy attorney general, suggests that closing it could cause NJ to face rolling blackouts or brownouts*. Although the energy of any power plant generally serves those geographically closest to it, the energy from the BLE station is poured indiscriminately into the massive regional PJM grid that ultimately serves thirteen states and the District of Columbia.

Because the plant is currently peak-only, running around two months out of the year, permanently shutting it down, according to the grid’s own spokesperson, is likely not detrimental and, according to the Sierra Club, “would actually cause fewer power reliability problems than if it [stays] open.” Regardless, Frank Felder, director of the Center for Energy, Economic and Environmental Policy at Rutgers University says it is an issue to monitor, not a crisis*.

*(From a private correspondence with Becky Free.)

Regarding the inevitability of leakage, Wittenberg responds (WH-21) with how good “modern” and “state of the art” technology is for both preventing and dealing with accidents:

Modern technology regarding pipe materials and construction techniques minimizes the risk of leaks from new pipelines [and that the] magnitude of an unlikely leak will also be minimized by the use of state of the art piping, continuous pressure gauges, and inspections and shut off valves.

Regarding the inevitability of explosions, Wittenberg responds (WH-18-20) with the plethora of required safety standards, precautions, and procedures, which includes limiting the number of inhabited structures within 100 feet of the pipeline. What is not mentioned:

  • Since the pipeline is almost exclusively intended to line the shoulders of roadways, cars traveling on top of it are at obvious risk. (The Pinelands Preservation Alliance, however, directly contradicts this: “The pipeline will be immersed in the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer along much, if not most, of its length.”)
  • Even assuming an ignition source right at the pipe, a 24-inch pipeline running at 437 PSI (WH-3) has a blast radius closer to 1,000 feet*, not 100.
  • Wildfires are an important and recurring part of the Pinelands’ ecology.
  • “By designing the proposed pipeline to operate at pressures far greater than necessary to supply B.L. England… South Jersey Gas substantially increases future material fatigue that could rupture the pipeline….”*

*(From page 26 in this officially submitted expert review document.)

Finally, Wittenberg states (WH-17) the pipeline’s construction does not require a dewatering permit because, although water will indeed be drained in order to stabilize construction, “[the] BL England project will be below the 100,000 GDP [gallons per day] threshold.” Leaving open the possibility that many tens of thousands of gallons of water will be drained daily throughout the Pinelands, affecting nearby well water, ponds and marine life.

The pipeline is approved because it will “primarily serve the needs of the Pinelands”

Wittenberg’s recommendation reiterates the purpose of the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) (WH-5):

Public service infrastructure is only a permitted land use in a Forest Area if it is demonstrated that the proposed natural gas pipeline is intended to primarily serve only the needs of the Pinelands

In 2012 (WH-2), the same pipeline was denied by the commission for this very reason. But now in 2017, both she and Barr support it. What changed?

Barr states in an interview: “I am convinced [that] this pipeline will serve mostly Pinelands people and business. That is what we are supposed to take into account. This was my primary driver.”

According to South Jersey Gas, while the pipeline “is necessary to improve reliability for the 140,000 South Jersey residents,” Wittenberg concludes that (WH-13) 20,000 of them are in the Pinelands, which is 14%. Since this conclusion is based on the fossil fuel companies’ own information, even this is likely overly optimistic.

How does Wittenberg conclude that this project does indeed “primarily serve only the needs of the Pinelands”? Because the pipeline will serve the BL England power plant, a business that happens to reside in the Pinelands, even though it is outside of the protected region under the Pinelands Commission’s jurisdiction (WH-5):

Serving the needs of an existing Pinelands business alone satisfies the CMP’s Forest Area land use standards for public service infrastructure, based on existing Commission precedent. Thus, on this basis, because the proposed pipeline serves the BLE plant, an existing Pinelands business, more than 95% of the time, it primarily serves only the needs of the Pinelands.

Determining whether or not the pipeline will benefit residents is “not necessary to demonstrate CMP conformance.”

In other words, a pipeline built by one fossil fuel company, exclusively benefiting another fossil fuel company, whose business resides in the Pinelands, but the vast majority of whose customers do not…such a pipeline completely satisfies the Pinelands Commission’s Comprehensive Management Plan.

A 24-inch pipeline running at 437 psi has the potential to carry many times more gas the BL England plant can even process. This, along with the massive 30-inch, 722 psi sister pipeline running southeast from Chesterfield, NJ to Ocean County, suggests that much of the gas is not for domestic use. (The higher the pressure, the farther the gas is intended to travel.) Instead, it is largely suspected to be sold for profit into the regional grid or exported internationally for issues of profit or national security. (Perhaps it is intended as a desperate attempt to prop up the struggling Atlantic City?) Regardless, these facts further undermine the argument that the pipeline “primarily serves the Pinelands.”

Aside: That both these New Jersey pipelines ultimately lead to the same general location (the South Jersey coast), along with the aggressive expansion of pipelines across the country, it seems that this network of pipelines is being designed in the same manner as the internet; where the massive redundancy of its computers and the connections between them is designed explicitly to keep the overall system robust, even if a substantial number of nodes or pathways are taken out.

Commissioner Lohbauer testified during the commission’s final vote on February 24, 2017, that the original planners and commissioners feared exactly this possibility: that a pipeline would cut entirely through the Pinelands protected area, where the source, destination and beneficiaries of that energy would all be completely outside of the protected region.

Their fear is now a reality.

By: Jeff Epstein, 3/7/2017
Edited by: Ben Szioli
Subject assistance by: Becky Free of Pinelands Preservation Alliance

Jeff is the co-founder of Citizens’ Media TV. He was a super-volunteer for Bernie Sanders, was one of around forty candidates in the country to be personally endorsed by senator, and was a pledged delegate at the 2016 DNC. Jeff is also a finalist for Brand New Congress. You can see more of his writing on his blog.

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Potential trouble awaits Monday’s MacArthur Town Hall

(Link to original livestream with comments.)

Republican Congressman Tom MacArthur, representing New Jersey’s third congressional district, has avoided in-person town halls because he doesn’t “want to be baited into having an event that some outside group can just make a spectacle out of.” Instead, he has held two telephone-only “tele” town halls in recent weeks, which, according to first-hand accounts, have been highly filtered affairs, where a single person asks a question, the congressmen answers, no follow ups are allowed, and no interaction between participants is possible. Constituents in Marlton protested by holding their own in-person town hall that MacArthur himself did not attend.

MacArthur is holding an in-person town hall on Monday night, 7 miles from the east coast in an approximately 50 mile wide district (going from only a few miles away from Philadelphia, all the way to the coast). The town hall, first announced Friday morning, is scheduled to start at 6:30, with doors opening at 5:30, in a room having a capacity of 250. People must RSVP, and among those who RSVP, it is first come, first served.

A carpenters union and the New Jersey Second Amendment Society (NJ2AS), a second amendment advocacy group, have both posted an event called “The town hall to support Representative MacArthur.” The carpenter’s union event, posted by Carpenters Local # 255 of South Jersey, is scheduled to start at 5pm, a full hour-and-a-half before the official start time.

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The NJ2AS article states:

“Congressman Tom MacArthur, the first and only NJ Congressman to support the National Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act (HR38) so far, supported us when no one else would. Now it’s our turn to support him. As you may have seen on the news, town halls across the country have been raucous events full of bussed in members of the opposition sent there to harass their Congressman. We’re not going to let them outnumber us though. [W]e’re asking that hundreds of our supporters arrive to the townhall [sic] to be there inside and outside the event to let Tom AND the media know, that we support him…. We’re going to show groups across the country how to fight back against these organized protestors sent in to harass our members of Congress.”

The National Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act (HR38) is a bill that allows anyone to carry a concealed firearm in a state whose laws allow it, regardless which state they reside in, and regardless the laws in their home state. MacArthur has sponsored the bill, which has only been introduced.

So a union is planning on arriving very early, in as large numbers as possible, at a venue with a capacity of 250 in a district of 732,000 people. Additionally, a second amendment advocacy group is planning on attending in the “hundreds,” explicitly to “fight back against these organized protesters.” It seems that anyone who gets even mildly upset at MacArthur has already been accused as being someone who is not a constituent of, and has explicitly come to harass, the congressman.

Though clearly intended as intimidation against those wanting to challenge the representative, New Jersey’s gun laws are among the most strict in the country (although are set to be significantly overridden by this potential new law). This along with the expected level of security at events of this type, both inside and out, the likeliness of guns being brandished during the event are low.

To close with an opinion: As it relates to the difficulties congressmen have faced at recent town halls, one complaint I’ve heard that I believe has some merit, is how some protesters seem to want to simply vent their frustrations at the Trump administration and the Republican takeover of Congress. The more concrete and actionable people’s requests are, the better chance they have at being effective, and not being framed in a negative light. You can be angry, you can express that anger, and you can express it forcefully. But unless you express it with peace, and respect for the person you’re addressing, you lose.

Citizens’ Media TV will be covering the event live starting at 4pm.

Update 3/6/2014: To better reflect my opinion in the final paragraph.
Update 3/7/2014: NJ2AS has removed the “fight back” sentence from their website.

Thanks to Ben Szioli for the editorial suggestions.

Jeff is co-founder of Citizens’ Media TV. He was a super-volunteer for Bernie Sanders, was one of around forty candidates in the country to be personally endorsed by senator, and was a pledged delegate at the 2016 DNC. Jeff is also a finalist for Brand New Congress. You can see more of his writing on his blog.

Got hit by some pretty serious Clinton Blame Cannons today

It seems that my friends, my friends’ friends, and I are exclusively to blame for the Trump Presidency and the Republican takeover of government. I tried to stand up for you all, without tearing the person down.

This article was re-published by Naked Capitalism. Screenshots of the conversation are at the bottom. 


First the post proper, which I made on Facebook, regarding a Republican town hall Citizens’ Media TV was to cover:

Me:

I am a journalist interested in debunking the Republican talking point of not wanting to participate in in person town halls, for fear of facing “outside agitators being bussed in only to harass them.”

If anyone out there is interested in livestreaming this event, and willing to go early and film the likely-non-existent buses bringing in people, and asking around, especially to those who are upset with the congressman/Republicans/Congress overall, to confirm their identity/That they live in the district, such as by looking privately at their licenses, or asking a question only locals would know how to answer (or any other creative ideas), please get in contact with me.

John Doe’s comment on the post:

I’m going and I live here.

My response:

Please friend and PM me if you are interested in assisting.

John Doe:

I visited your page, saw your posts and your friends’ comments, and with thanks for your vote for the Democratic nominee in the election, I will decline. I worked hard for her election and have no more tolerance for the kind of bull I saw on your posts. I’m sure some of those people are crying and marching now. With their support, this didn’t have to happen. [redacted] on your post was so sure of herself, and probably still is. Makes me ill.

Me:

I don’t understand what posts you object to. On what page? My personal page? I am unsure what you mean by “with their support this didn’t have to happen”? What didn’t have to happen? The Trump presidency and the Republican takeover of Congress? Who is [redacted]?

John Doe:

on a post on your wall. Someone among your friends named [redacted], full of conspiracy theories that you permit to be aired on your wall, saying that Clinton was going to be be president and nothing would stop her, she “stole” the nomination, blah blah blah. And yes, the Trump presidency didn’t have to happen. Your post is full of people saying they either wouldn’t vote, or vote for Stein for gods sake. You posted that a vote for Stein isn’t wasted. It is people who said such things that made his electoral college win possible. You all bought the right-wing Russian-financed propaganda. Now you cry and march.

Me:

Would appreciate a link to the post you’re referring to. It’s hard to discuss this without knowing what you’re talking about.

I disagree with lots of my friends, and disagree with even more people that are friends of my friends. The [redacted] you are talking about is likely a friend of a friend. Unless they are blatantly hateful, I choose not to delete comments just because I might disagree with them. Because many people that I disagree with still have something valid to say.

Thank you for acknowledging my vote for Hillary Clinton in the general. I will be honest and say that I did it almost exclusively as an anti-Trump vote.

You are correct. If every single Bernie Sanders supporter came out and voted for Hillary Clinton during the general, she likely would’ve won by a landslide. The Democrats would not have lost state houses across the country and control of all branches of our government. Instead of winning by a landslide, she lost by a razor thin margin, even winning the popular vote by almost 3 million votes.

I hope that we can agree that the American people are by and large reasonable people. So if that’s true, then what about Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party caused all of these people to not vote for her? That many people choose not to vote at all, some chose to vote third-party, and probably some chose to vote for Trump just to “blowed shit up real good.”

It seems that all of these people chose to risk a Trump presidency and a Republican domination of the entire country, than to come out and vote for Hillary Clinton.

I hope you’re not seriously suggesting that the only reason that Hillary Clinton lost is 100% caused by “right wing Russian-financed propaganda,” and 0% because of what Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party has done and not done for the past 40 years.

John Doe:

one word: misogyny. And I am not at all persuaded that the American people are by and large “reasonable.” Quite apparently not. https://www.facebook.com/jeffyepstein/posts/10207140649099932

Me:

Thank you for the link.

There were seventeen friends tagged in that post. Comments came from more than a hundred people [actually closer to forty], about half indirect friends of those people.

So a large percentage (most? all?) of Bernie Sanders tens of millions of supporters, that didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, either hate women (including the women…) or are so gullible to be duped by Russian financed right wing propaganda. They have no valid issues at all.

The Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton have NO responsibility in their loss. Those votes were rightly hers.

That’s what you’re trying to tell me.

Me, four hours later:

Let me be more direct: *IS* that what you’re trying to tell me?

It is so easy to blame tens of millions of middle and lower income Americans for the spectacular losses suffered by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party in November. From what you’ve told me so far, they are the ONLY ones to blame. Tens of millions of people. All virulent misogynists, dim-witted enough to be completely duped by “Russian financed right wing propaganda”, and “by and large”, “quite apparently” not reasonable human beings. They have no valid concerns at all. How easily you write them off with such hateful and simplistic accusations.

The powerful few though, with their billionaire donors and much of the media and rules tilted in their favor, they share absolutely none of the responsibility in their OWN losses.

It’s not Hillary Clinton’s job to earn the votes of those tens of millions of people. It is the job of those tens of millions of people to just vote for her. Because as bad as they may feel she and the Democratic Party are for their own good, Trump is so much worse…and they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about anyway.

You do realize how unreasonable that sounds, right?

 




Democrats don’t need to “come up with a message for rural America,” they need to *listen* to rural Americans.

Corporate Democrats don’t listen to the people, because doing so would conflict with the needs of their donors. They don’t “need a message for rural America,” they need to listen to rural America! Doing so would make that message blazingly obvious.

Hence the success of TYT Politics, Unicorn Riot, We Are the Media, and my own Citizens’ Media TV.

We are the only ones, despite being invited in because of our press credentials, who spend three hours in the freezing rain, listening to the suffering of those shut out of a supposed public meeting for comment of a natural gas pipeline. Suffering with them. We are the only ones who thoroughly cover the DNC from the perspective of Bernie Delegates and the humiliation and suppression they (I!) had to endure. TYT Politics’ Jordan Chariton is now out at Standing Rock for the sixth time and, thanks to a tip from a TYT viewer, broke and still covers the Indiana lead crisis. We are the Media just got some footage and now NBC wants it. They responded with, “No. If you cared enough you would have showed up.” Unicorn Riot talks to those divesting from DAPL banks.

You can’t know what people want if you don’t talk to people. And not talking to people show exactly what you care about.

They have access, money, and power. We have the truth.

More than half refused entry to so-called public Pinelands Commission meeting requesting comments on proposed natural gas pipeline

At its peak, more than 300 people are standing outside of St. Anne’s Church in Browns Mills, in the rain and near-freezing cold, forbidden from joining the Pinelands Commission meeting. The ostensibly public meeting is for comments on whether the natural gas pipeline, as proposed by South Jersey Gas, will benefit the Pinelands, and if it conforms to the commission’s charter and to state environmental laws. At 8:45am, forty five minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin, people were refused entry because the hall was filled to its capacity of 258 people. While the empty sanctuary and other rooms in the church can hold more, they are unavailable.

(This article has been published on Ocean County Politics. Here are the original-livestream posts: part one, part two.)

A handicapped woman who is unable to stand for long periods arrives at almost exactly 9:30, but is refused entry by a state trooper. She is given a chair. The trooper will not allow anyone to use the restrooms. “It’s one for one. If one person leaves, I’ll allow one person in. Sorry folks, we’re filled to capacity. Fire code.” Later, people on the inside report up to 20 empty seats, but according to the officers, “We’re counting physical bodies, not seats.”

Despite this, late arriving members of the commission and the press are let in. As one commissioner enters, he is stopped by a woman who requests that the meeting be postponed. The commissioner gives a terse and uninterested reply before quickly entering.

Live coverage by Jeff Epstein of Citizens’ Media TV.


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According to the Pinelands Commission spokesman the meeting was moved because, “Ultimately, we wanted to make sure we have enough space…” The meeting was not just for public comment. The normal monthly meeting for the commission, originally scheduled for January 13, was instead moved to the beginning of today’s meeting, adding to the confusion of when the public portion would start, and therefore when people should arrive.

“We want to larger space! This meeting’s a disgrace!”

Lena Smith of Food and Water Watch New Jersey says, “This process from the very beginning has intentionally tried to keep the public out.” Lena was later allowed in, shouted at the back of the room to the commission, “There are more than 200 people outside, shut it down!,” and was escorted out by police. A photo of her is the cover photo in the Burlington County Times cover story of the meeting.

At 9:45, Bill, a member of Chesterfield’s People Over Pipelines and a man with a booming voice, shouts to the officer, “You’ve got 100 people out here, shut it down!” The crowd breaks into a chant of, “Shut it down!” He tells the officer, “This is a public hearing! There are legal requirements for a public hearing! I want to participate, they have to shut it down! This is against the fundamental requirements of due process in a public hearing. You can’t do this.” He tells me the goal of this tactic is to tire the people out so they go away and stop fighting, in order to speed up and ease the permitting process.

For those against the pipeline, the goal is either for everyone to be let in to give their comments–and to hear everybody else’s–or for the meeting postponed and rescheduled for a larger venue. In August of last year, a similar situation happened. A public comment meeting was scheduled at a conference room in the Ramada Inn in Bordentown Township, that had a capacity for 200 people. Both then and today, there were reports of pro-pipeline union people being bussed in early to fill seats and further limit the seats available to the public. The meeting was postponed and rescheduled to the Chesterfield High School auditorium in October.

What do we want?! Shut it down! What do we want?! Shut it down!

10-year-old Ben is in line with his parents instead of attending school. His parents chose for this to be his first taste of real activism. “I’m here to help the Pinelands stay safe. And the world and nature to stay safe. And no polluting. And no danger. They’re trying to put a pipe there to make money. But you don’t have to put it in the Pinelands.”

At 10:30, one of the commissioners comes outside to collect a list of all those who wants to come in and give their comments (and then exit again). The person that escorts her out shouts, “She’s a commissioner!” The woman pauses at that, and then says, “I’m trying to accommodate everybody.” I ask if the commission was trying to accommodate everyone, why would they choose a venue that could handle less than half of the people? She did not respond.

Shame! Shame! Shame!

After five full minutes of heated conversation between the commissioner and the crowd, Pemberton resident Mark Georgia asks, “What is your capacity?” She responds, “I’m just a business person. I’m on the clerical unit.” But the crowd was told very clearly, while she was standing right there, that she was on the commission. “That was a mistake.”

Jennifer Coffey of the non-profit ANJEC, The Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions has been involved in the fight for New Jersey’s environment for 15 years, and holds two graduate degrees in environmental studies. “I have never had the indignity of attending a meeting like this. I have been out here for three hours. My toes hurt it is so cold, and I’m relatively young and able bodied. There’s no bathrooms!” She makes the point that calling people in from outside to make their comments is unfair, because they have not had the chance to hear any of the preceding comments for context.

At 10:45, about half go around to the other side of the building, in order to shout at the windows where the meeting is being held. Two nondescript police cars, one on each sides about 200 feet away, keep tabs.

Some in the crowd are coordinating with those on the inside. One is watching a livestream of the meeting. At least two people use much of their testimony time to stand in silence, so the commission can hear the shouts of those being excluded. About half of those on the outside remain at the front door to ensure they will be able to make their comments when called.

Let us in! Let us in!

Jill Popko, former mayor of Bordentown is blowing a whistle. During her tenure, Popko was ejected by police out of an October public-comment meeting. “These people’s taxes pay the wages of the Pinelands Commission…. When these people go to the pearly gates, the Lord Almighty is going to look at them and say, ‘I don’t think so!’ These people are destroying the earth, they are destroying New Jersey, and they are getting paid to do it.”

Post-pone! Post-pone! Post-pone!

There are at least five families with young pre-school children standing out in the rain. One mother of a five-year-old was outside for four hours before being let in to make her comments. Other parents escape to their cars for a break from the cold and rain (and from having to constantly hold hands with their children), with some giving up and going home.

A mother from Wynnewood Pennsylvania has traveled an hour and 20 minutes with her 17-month-old girl and four-year-old son. She was walking them to her car to take a break from the cold, and was told that she would get a phone call when it was her turn to speak. Why did she travel this far? “Because we love the Pine Barrens. If you want to protect something that you love, you come out for it.”

Afterwards, a mother from Tabernacle tells me her story in a text message:

I arrived at 9:30 but it took ten minutes or so to find parking at the Veteran’s Park at the end of the block. The doors were locked when we got to the door at about 9:45. I waited in the rain with my two kids, ages four and three for about 15 minutes. We returned to the car where we waited for another hour and twenty minutes. We had packed lunch and ate in the car. We then went to a local store to let them get some energy out. Drove back around 1:30 and the parking lot was still full and people were still outside. We had to abandon and go home, because it was too difficult for my kids.

Another mother says, “I don’t want my children drinking dirty water.” I joke that her standards are too high.

This is on purpose! Shame on you! This is on purpose! Shame on you!

The meeting was not postponed, and the cold did indeed disperse most of the crowd. When I left at 12:45, there were around 20 people left. If their goal was to tire people out so they would go away and stop fighting, they succeeded. At least for today.

Bill, the gentleman with the loud voice, tells me that it is getting close to the point where more direct action, such as creating a Pinelands version of Standing Rock, may be necessary. “They can’t vote on it today. But the next meeting in February, they’re going to approve it, guaranteed. The only thing we have left is direct action and civil disobedience…. The only other thing we have is lawsuits.”

Rachel Delgado-Simmons, a resident of Pemberton, tells me, “This is my church. Saint Anne’s is my church. My mother sat in on the meetings where they created the Pinelands Commission forty years ago. They created this charter to protect the Pine Barrens. We live in the Pinelands and we’re going to save the Pinelands.”

Fred LaVergne is the only choice for progressives and environmental voters for U.S. Congress in New Jersey’s 3rd District

We are Our Revolution: South Jersey, a local branch of the national group that Bernie Sanders formed near the end of his presidential campaign. Our mission is to nurture and support progressive candidates that work for the benefit of Southern New Jersey. Our views are, not surprisingly, strongly aligned with Bernie Sanders’. Some of us claim that “we became born politically” when we discovered Bernie Sanders last year. Before that, casting a vote was the extent of our political activity. But we grew up fast, got heavily involved in the campaign, and are committed to the political revolution that he began.

During the Primary Election, many members of our group had the opportunity to meet Fred Lavergne, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Representative of New Jersey’s 3rd District. LaVergne “had the Democratic line” in Burlington County. This meant that his endorsement by Burlington County’s Democratic Party listed him on the ballot right under their candidate for president, Hillary Clinton.

LaVergne’s success in the Primary Race revealed some interesting factors. For example, he did not accept campaign money from PACs and did virtually no fundraising, raising a total of $600 during the primaries. Yet despite the $55,000 raised by his main opponent, he won the nomination with an impressive 63% of the vote. He now faces Republican incumbent Tom MacArthur in The November general election.

The most important issues to Fred LaVergne are jobs, infrastructure, Social Security, National Health Care for All, veterans, and the environment. He calls himself a “centrist ‘Bradley‘ Democrat” and believes in free market and nuclear energy. Although he supports a living wage and free college tuition, he believes that they “must not be done in a vacuum.”

Is he as progressive as the members of Our Revolution? No. But in many areas, his views are as progressive as ours. For example, he is against prisons for profit, speaks passionately against the push for the natural gas pipelines in his district, and recognizes climate change as the crisis it is. He wants the TPP to be killed, not renegotiated, and is a staunch supporter of unions, LGBT rights, and hand counted paper ballots. And like Bernie Sanders, he advocates for the elimination of the Social Security cap.

His opponent, Representative MacArthur is a multi-millionaire who almost always votes for the benefit of the wealthy and big business, in support of domestic surveillance, and in deficit to the environment.

During the Primary Election, LaVergne became a regular visitor and frequent presence at our Bernie Sanders Campaign Office, Burlington County Headquarters in Pemberton, New Jersey, and is an active member of our group, Our Revolution: South Jersey. We know him to be a man of his word. He has a wide range of knowledge on the issues and always supports his claims with evidence. He has strong opinions but never hesitates to sit back and really listen.

Although endorsed by the Establishment Democratic Party in the primary election, that support has been lacking in the general. However, for many Bernie Sanders supporters, this could be interpreted as a positive thing. And the fact that Fred Lavergne spends almost no time fundraising shows that he’s just too busy working for the people.

For the progressive and the environmentally conscious voter in New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, the choice is clear. No matter who you choose for president, on November 8th, vote Fred LaVergne for Congress.

(Consider donating and volunteering.)

Sander Friedman beat me badly in the primaries. Now I want to help him win on November 8th

In the 2016 Democratic primaries, I ran for Burlington County Surrogate on the Bernie Sanders ticket. I was one of only around forty candidates in the country to be personally endorsed by the senator. It was not only my first campaign, it was my first experience in politics. I had no fundraising or staff, yet got just under 12,000 votes, or 28%. While a large amount of these votes were on Bernie Sanders’ coattails, a substantial number of them were not. I tried to win, and I’m proud of what I and my supporters accomplished.

I could not have lost to a nicer guy. Sander Friedman is now the Democratic nominee, and he has earned, and deserves this position. The campaign he ran against me was strong and assertive without being negative, and his experience with the surrogacy and already fighting for the people of Burlington County, makes him more than qualified. Since the campaign I have gotten to know Sander, and have found him to be both pleasant and present, not to mention supportive of my own past candidacy and future prospects.

An important item in my platform was to dramatically reduce the three dollar-per-page-cost of obtaining copies of documents being held in the surrogate’s office. This is regressive as it punishes those with smaller estates, paying the same fee as those with the largest. It is something that Sander can already claim to have accomplished. In 2005, he won a case against Camden County Clerk’s office that prohibits them from inflating fees with bogus charges.

His 25 year law career (and his firm) has centered around protecting the rights of consumers and citizens, and he has already achieved obvious victories in these areas. I will be voting for Sander Friedman for Burlington County Surrogate on November 8th and making phone calls to urge others to do the same.