New York Times column today
, Michael Powell has unearthed an
ugly-looking government ethics situation in New Jersey involving apparent misuse of government ethics authority to win a vote.
The fact situation is fairly typical. What is not typical is the way
it has been handled. A gas company is seeking permission to put a
pipeline through the Jersey Pine Barrens, a huge nature reserve that
is overseen by the Pinelands
, an independent agency whose members are selected
by the governor, by various local officials, and by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The members include
environmental activists as well as real estate professionals.
The current governor's administration has arranged a deal by which
the gas company will pay $8 million to the commission, and the
commission's staff support the deal. But the four preceding
governors have written a letter opposing the pipeline, and it looks
like the commission vote, scheduled for tomorrow, will be close.
One of the commission members is, among other things, the president
of the board of the nonprofit Eastern Environmental Law Center,
which called for an additional public meeting on the pipeline.
According to the article, on December 6 a deputy attorney general
called the commission member to tell him that he had a conflict of
interest based on the center's call for an additional meeting. The
commission member said that he did not believe this constituted a
conflict. The deputy AG said that the commission member could appeal
to the commission's ethics officer. Every state agency in NJ has an
ethics officer, as part of the state ethics program, which also has
a state EC.