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Highlands for $ale


Date : Wed, 27 May 2009 13:14:43 -0400

For Immediate Release

May 27, 2009

Contact: Jeff Tittel, Chapter Director

   (609) 558-9100

 

Highlands for $ale

Conflicts of Interest

 

The recent change of position by the Highlands Council staff on the proposed Roseland Susquehanna power line - they're now saying the proposal is consistent with the Highlands Plan - is not only ridiculous, but it undermines the credibility of the Highlands Council and the Highlands Plan.

 

In December, the Highlands Council said the proposed power line was not consistent with the Highlands Act and identified 56 determinations of inconsistency. Now, after PSEG has proposed to donate $18.6 million to the Highlands Council, they've reversed course. Taking money from an applicant in front of your board and saying it's for mitigation looks to the average person as a conflict of interest.

 

"It appears the Highlands Council now has 18.6 million reasons to change their mind," New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said. "This is an outrageous abuse of governmental authority. It is a sell out of the public trust and undermines the purpose of the Highlands Act."

 

"The rationale is that this money can be used to mitigate the impact of the proposed power lines," Tittel said. "The problem is you cannot mitigate a scar across the Highlands that removes trees, crosses wetlands, disturbs steep slopes, and brings in dirty coal power from Pennsylvania. Those are direct onsite impacts and you cannot mitigate them offsite."

 

"More importantly, the Highlands Act does not call for mitigation, it says to enhance, restore and protect water quality in the Highlands," Tittel said. "The Highlands Council seems to want to rationalize, obfuscate, and sell out the Highlands."

 

The Highlands Act does not give the Council authority to buy land. They only have the ability to come up with a list of properties for other agencies to purchase.

 

"Buying property that is already woodlands and current open space won't mitigate for the damage of this project, since those lands are already party of a healthy ecosystem," Tittel said. "You're not offsetting the destruction; you're just buying open space that may already be protected under the Highlands Act."

 

The Highlands Council has the authority to raise money to meet its budget needs. At a time when budgets are being cut, there are furloughs and potential layoffs, the Highlands Council could use this funding to not only meet its budget needs, but also to pay staff salaries. Taking money from an applicant that is before the public board to support your staff is a breach of public trust and a conflict of interest.

 

New Jersey's Uniform Ethics Code states the following in the general standards of conduct:

 

"1. No State officer or employee or special State officer or employee should have any interest, financial or otherwise, direct or indirect, or engage in any business or transaction or professional activity, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his/her duties in the public interest."

 

"3. No State officer or employee or special State officer or employee should act in hisher official capacity in any matter wherein heshe has a direct or indirect personal financial interest that might reasonably be expected to impair his/her objectivity or independence of judgment."

 

"4. No State officer or employee or special State officer or employee should knowingly act in any way that might reasonably be expected to create an impression or suspicion among the public having knowledge of his/her acts that he/she may be engaged in conduct violative of his trust as a State officer or employee or special State officer or employee."

 

"They're opened to the "Highlands" bidder," Tittel said. "If PSE&G can offer money and have their project approved, what's stopping a developer to offer money so he can build in the Pequannock Watershed?"

 

This money doesn't come out of PSE&G's pocket, it will come from ratepayers. Essentially, all of us are paying for PSE&G apparent "gift" to the Highlands Council. "The people of New Jersey are going to be subsidizing this money given to the Highlands Council, their justification for power line, and the impact it is going to have to our water supply," Tittel said.

 

Not only will this power line have a direct impact on the natural habitat, it will encourage increased pollution from dirty coal fired power plants. Pennsylvania's coal plants are the major source of mercury in our reservoirs and the reason for fish advisories in the Highlands Region. When it rains, nitrous oxide from the coal plants puts nitrogen into our water ways, causing utrification.

 

"I've never seen, in all my years of being involved in environmental advocacy, such a blatant quid pro quo from a regulatory agency," Tittel said.

 

 

 

 

Kara Seymour, Program Assistant

NJ Sierra Club

145 W. Hanover Street

Trenton, NJ 08618

609.656.7612

(f) 609.656.7618

 <http://www.newjersey.sierraclub.org> www.newjersey.sierraclub.org

 
Received on 2009-05-27 10:14:43

New Jersey Sierra Club, 145 West Hanover St., Trenton, NJ 08618, USA
tel: 609 656 7612, fax 609 656 7618
or email Nicole Dallara, Outreach Coordinator, at nicole.dallara@sierraclub.org

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