Environmentally controversial Barr falls short of Pinelands Commission appointment

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TRENTON – In response to a Pinelands pipeline proponent who controversially made it out of committee and reinforces a public declaration that Gov. Chris Christie made in Iowa when he said he’s dismantling environmental protections, senators trashed Robert Barr on the floor of the upper house this afternoon.

The vote was 19 for and 18 against. Barr needed 21 today to become a Pinelands Commissioner.

“We think this is a real win for the Pinelands,” said Jeff Titttel, executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, “but we are concerned because [Senate President Steve] Sweeney abstained. It is a victory for now. It shows that the senators stood up to Chris Christie and Steve Sweeney.”

One by one, senators, Democrats Ray Lesniak and Nia Gill; and Republicans Kip Bateman, and Jen Beck got their elbows in one nominee, who would replace Commissioner Robert Jackson, who opposes the natural gas pipeline through the precious Garden State natural resource.

“Today we are being asked to support the governor’s decision to remove a member of the decision because he opposed [the pipeline],” Gill said. “If we remove the member of the commission we will send a message: do what the governor says or you will be removed from your position.

“Just the latest example of executive intimidation,” the senator added. “He is not qualified. …I will not allow the governor to dismantle the integrity of the Pinelands Commission.”

Bateman likewise slashed at Barr, a political confidant of state Senator Jeff Van Drew (D-1), who is close to Christie.

“As I said in committee, this is wrong,” said the senator. “We’re stacking the deck. The Pinelands Commission was set up with autonomy for a reason. This is such a preserve that we need to keep it that way. If we do this that way we’re going down a slippery slope.”

State senators Peter Barnes and Bob Smith (the chair of the Senate Environmental Committee) abstained. State Senator Brian P. Stack was absent from the chamber.

Former New Jersey Governors, Brendan Byrne, Thomas Kean, Christine Whitman and James Florio all urged the senate to block Barr’s nomination.

“During his first testimony in Committee, Robert Barr knew nothing about the Pinelands or the science of the Pinelands,” Tittel said. “He still knows nothing about the Pinelands. All he knows is political science and his political connections. This nomination was about politics, not protecting the Pinelands. When Mr. Barr was interviewed during Committee he said he had no opinion of the pipeline, but he is part of the political operation that is pushing for the pipeline. Either way it makes him unqualified. Hundreds of New Jersey residents called and e-mailed their Senators to vote No on Barr’s nomination. Last week, a group rallied across the state by bus to speak to Senators at their offices directly. Barr’s block is a great success for the Pinelands and the many who opposed it.

“Governor Christie is trying to get rid of all the Commissioners who opposed the pipeline and this was part of that purge,” Tittel added. “Governor Christie is pushing Barr because it would be tougher for Democrats on the Committee who support the Pinelands to vote against just a lone Democrat. This was a tactical move by Governor Christie to try to take over the Pinelands Commission, and now we must urge Senators to block this vote yet again.”

The senate president a short time later reintroduced the nomination and the governing body affirmed Barr.

That followup story can be found here.