As New Jersey's Senate prepares to vote on whether to confirm a new member of the Pinelands Commission, a letter from some former governors could influence the outcome.

 

Gov. Chris Christie has nominated Robert Barr to replace a commission member who opposed a natural gas pipeline running through parts of the preservation area.

Former Republican Govs. Christie Whitman and Tom Kean and Democratic Govs. Jim Florio and Brendan Byrne say the nomination threatens the commission's independence, and they're urging the Senate to withhold Barr's confirmation Thursday.

Sen. Ray Lesniak says that sets up a possible showdown.

"It's very infrequent that the entire Senate would vote down a nominee who has been released by the Judiciary Committee," said Lesniak, D-Union. "However, four governors coming out in opposition is unprecedented also. So I think it's going to be a real battle."

It's not about the pipeline, said David Pringle with New Jersey Clean Water Action. Barr's confirmation would be a dangerous precedent and send a chilling message for all independent agencies, he said.

"It's very, very unusual for governors to weigh in on nominations like this. It shows how great the stakes are and how important this is, not just for the Pinelands, but for independent agencies overall," Pringle said. "Whether they are permitted and should do their job or if they're at the beck and call of the various political bullies of the day."

The commission voted last year to block the pipeline plan that's opposed by environmental groups. Business groups say the pipeline could improve the reliability of delivering natural gas.