Regarding the Jan. 15 editorial, "B.L. England pipeline/Disappointing vote":

This editorial misses the point of the Pinelands Commission's vote and mischaracterizes the question that was before us to decide.

You argue that we rejected the natural-gas pipeline alternative that posed the least environmental risk. This presumes it is the responsibility of the commission to accept environmental risk to the Pine Barrens protected forest area in order to avoid potentially worse risk outside of the pinelands. Relative environmental protection is simply not the standard established in the pinelands law.

Your argument that converting a "dirty coal plant to natural gas" would be a win for the environment is not at all certain, nor was it an appropriate issue for the commission. The coal-to-gas conversion would take the B.L. England Generating Station from "peaker" status, operating only 30 to 60 days a year, to a full-time, year-round operation. Hydrocarbon emissions and some other pollutants would be reduced, but carbon dioxide - the greenhouse gas - and fine particulates would dramatically increase. Would that be an improvement?

Of course, this would not have been an appropriate argument for the Pinelands Commission to consider, and we did not do so. Our job is to apply the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan to applications. It was undisputed that the applicant's intention to bury pipeline through forest area -even under a state highway shoulder - was inconsistent with the CMP.

To be approved, the applicant needed to quality for an exception. There are only two standards for exception: waiver of strict compliance and intergovernmental memorandum of agreement. The application pursued the memorandum-of-agreement standard, which is only available to governmental entities.

Seven commissioners considered it inappropriate for a private company, South Jersey Gas, to receive an exception reserved for governmental entities. An eighth commissioner shared this belief, but he was recused from this vote. We believe an applicant like this must apply under the waiver standard and meet its requirements.

Our vote was not about what is relatively better for the environment or what is the best way to generate power in South Jersey. It was about adhering to the standards of the Pinelands Act, plain and simple.

MARK S. LOHBAUER

Chairman

New Jersey Pinelands Commission

Pennsauken

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