September 6, 2009
State should not let "bribe" stand
environmental advocate and elected official whose constituents will be
deeply affected by the green lighting of Public Service Electric &
Gas Co.'s power line project, I am concerned by the direction the
Highlands Council and its staff have taken on the recent Consistency
Determination for PSE&G's proposal.
believe the finding of consistency with the Regional Master Plan sets a
dangerous precedent in this sensitive region of our state, and I
believe the state Department of Environmental Protection must take the
necessary steps to right this terrible wrong.
process lacked transparency and accountability. The staff's synopsis of
extensive public comment was generalized and sterilized into a tidy
eight-page report. Some of the most serious deficiencies presented by
objectors were glossed over or missing entirely. Many of the positive
comments came from PSE&G employees or retired employees, or a
PSE&G-generated form letter. To make an informed decision, the
council should have been given all comments in their proper context.
I question the staff's decision, without council input, to negotiate
for monetary mitigation in lieu of a determination of inconsistency. It
is unconscionable that $18.6 million and a "conceptual plan for
mitigation" turned last December's finding of major inconsistencies
into last May's determination of consistency.
authority to accept monetary mitigation is unclear — methods and
procedures for such are not described anywhere in the regional master
plan's goals, policies and objectives.
In PSE&G's own
words, this creates a "new fund established specifically for the
purposes of acquiring critical lands, supporting preservation,
conservation and stewardship — enhancing the Highlands Region related
to the Project."
This process places a "For Sale" sign on critical Highlands' resources.
It is unimaginable that any elected official believing in open and
transparent government could approve this unvetted process. Yet five of
the eight affirmative votes on June 25 — including Sussex County
Freeholder Director Glen Vetrano and Morris County Freeholder Jack
Schrier — came from current or former elected officials.
member of Byram's Land Use Board for the past two years, it would be
inappropriate for an applicant to approach me proposing a monetary
payment prior to hearings. This applicant — a major influence-wielding
corporation — did so in an application before the Highlands Council,
and it was welcomed as part of a determination of consistency. Real or
perceived, PSE&G's proposal is being seen by the public as a
special interest payoff to buy a development approval.
monetary mitigation were to be allowed, it should occur only after a
determination of inconsistency by the council, and at the request of
the DEP through established protocol.
The DEP must reject this
deal and reject the council staff's reliance on a concept plan and
unwritten policies and procedures as simply bad governance.
While it may be a difficult decision in an election year, in the
interest of honesty and openness in government, protection of the
region's threatened natural resources, implementation of clean energy
goals, and the dangerous precedent that this action sets, I strongly
urge Gov. Jon Corzine to step in and instruct the DEP to send this
horrendously improper decision back to the Highlands Council with an
admonishment to "get it right" this time.