Governor Names Enviros to Highlands Council; When Will Lawmakers Approve?

Tom Johnson | September 4, 2019 | Energy & Environment
Murphy moves to reshape makeup of vital planning body but must wait for Senate to sign off

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In a move welcomed by conservationists, Gov. Phil Murphy is attempting to recast the membership of the New Jersey Highlands Council by nominating three environmental advocates to the 15-member body that oversees planning within the region.

The appointments, which the governor announced late last month, mark the latest effort by the administration to reshape the focus of the council, as well as of the Pinelands Commission, to support the goals of the two regional planning agencies to protect and preserve their natural resources.

The nominations still must be approved by the New Jersey Senate, which has failed to move on five previous appointments to the Pinelands Commission made by the governor, including one nominated as long ago as January. Few legislative sessions are expected to be held until after the November elections, making it unlikely the latest nominees will be approved quickly.

Nevertheless, environmentalists were pleased with the nominations. “These three excellent candidates will add tremendous knowledge and support to the council’s important work,’’ said Julia Somers, executive director of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition.

Promising ‘fully operational Highlands Council’

“Ensuring clean drinking water, economic vitality, and a thriving ecosystem in the New Jersey Highlands is of existential importance to the millions of residents that rely on the health of that region,’’ the governor said. “The responsibility of protecting the Highlands is one our administration does not take lightly, and the promise of a fully operational Highlands Council is one that I am proud to fulfill.’’

If so, the governor has a lot more work to do. All the remaining members of the Highlands Council are serving as holdovers, some for longer than a decade.

Among those nominated are Daniel Van Abs, an assistant professor at Rutgers University; he formerly worked at the council and helped develop its regional master plan. Van Abs also has a long history in water resources planning, including at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. He is an occasional contributor to NJ Spotlight.

Murphy also nominated Wynnie-Fred Victor Haines, co-chair of the Newark Environmental Commission, the first Newark resident to join the council. Newark owns and operates five reservoirs that help supply drinking water to millions of residents in northern New Jersey.

The final nominee is Bill Kibler, director of policy for the Raritan Headwaters Association since 2011. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Kibler also is an attorney who worked at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“This is a great start, but we need to get these nominations through,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “There’s a lot more that needs to be done.’’