The Chris Christie Scandal You Haven't Heard About — Trying to Ram Through Controversial Gas Pipeline
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The Christie administration went to extraordinary lengths in an effort to secure approval for a controversial gas pipeline, opponents allege. Approval of the pipeline would benefit a top Christie political operative who is also enmeshed in the George Washington Bridge scandal.
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 Pinelands Commission is technically not supposed to approve infrastructure in environmentally sensitive parts of the Pinelands unless it is for Pinelands residents and there is no feasible alternative. Theresa Lettman, Director for Monitoring Programs at the Pinelands Presservation Alliance, told ThinkProgress that since neither seemed to be true in this case, South Jersey Gas turned to a memorandum of agreement. Essentially, the gas company would give the Commission $8 million to spend on the area around the pipeline in exchange for special dispensation. The Pinelands Commission voted 7-7 on that proposal Friday, meaning the pipeline was rejected.
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, Dec. 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.
He called Monday, Dec. 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.
Nancy Wittenberg, Executive Director of the Pinelands Commission and a Christie appointee, disputes Lloyd’s version of events. “We never spoke to the governor’s office on this,” she told ThinkProgress. “That was a quote from Ed, and maybe he didn’t remember it right, but it’s not true.”
Lloyd stood by what he said. “There’s no chance that I misheard. You don’t forget that kind of thing. It was surprising but it was there,” he said.
Wittenberg also sought to clarify that though the State Ethics Commission did tell Roth they advised that Lloyd recuse himself, that isn’t the same thing as an order to do so, which was still in progress. “The process isn’t set up to deal with things in real time,” she said, which is why the final order on recusal is coming after the actual vote.