Gov. Murphy’s Pinelands Appointees “A Stab In The Back” - The Fisherman

Gov. Murphy’s Pinelands Appointees “A Stab In The Back”

Anglers, conservationists, and environmental advocates are up in arms over Gov. Phil Murphy’s latest nominations to the Pinelands Commission, with some enviros calling them “a stab in the back.”

In early December, Gov. Murphy made public his plans to replace three environmental allies on the Pinelands Commission with new members who have corporate and political ties, including one executive at a petrochemical industry trade group and another who is in charge of government affairs at the wind energy giant Orsted.

As author Ry Rivard noted at POLITICO Pro “Environmental groups are worried about a shakeup Gov. Phil Murphy plans for the Pinelands Commission, the 15-member board tasked with preserving one million ecologically sensitive acres in South Jersey.”

Included in the trio of Murphy nominations is Davon McCurry, a government affairs official with the wind energy giant Orsted.  His appointment would replace D’Arcy Rohan Green, an environmental advocate who has served on the Pinelands Commission since 2011.

The governor also nominated Elvin Montero, deputy executive director of the Chemistry Council of New Jersey to replace Ed Lloyd, a retired environmental law professor who has sat on the commission since 2002.  His third proposed nomination of Laura Matos, an executive at a national communications and public relations firm called Kivvit would replace Richard Prickett, a retired science teacher who joined the commission in 2012 and is its current chairman.

“It’s like a great stab in the back because we’ve been great supporters of the governor,” said Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, in an article at NJ Spotlight News.

The Pinelands Commission is an independent state agency which is tasked with protecting the region’s natural resources while encouraging compatible economic development.  Jim Gilbert, a former head of the State Planning Commission, told NJ Spotlight News that the new nominees would conflict with the panel’s goals by introducing conflicts of interest.  Gilbert accused Murphy of making a “complete turnaround” with the nominations, while “playing politics with one of the nation’s best examples of balancing growth with protecting water resources.”

“All three of the new nominees appear to have fundamental conflicts of interest due to their employment as lobbyists for industry,” said the nonprofit Pinelands Preservation Alliance (Alliance) in a statement.  Carleton Montgomery, executive director of the Alliance, said the proposal to replace Lloyd with Montero was especially troubling because Montero’s employer has a record of resisting environmental regulation while citing chemical contamination as a “huge issue” in the Pinelands.

Montgomery was cited in NJ Spotlight News as saying that McCurry’s participation could expose the Pinelands to another source of development pressure as Orsted seeks ways of transmitting power from two planned wind farms off the New Jersey Shore to the onshore grid.  The sites where Orsted plans to bring its power onshore – two former power plants in Ocean and Cape May counties – are both in the Pinelands National Reserve.  Montgomery pointed out that McCurry would have to recuse himself from any Pinelands Commission votes that would affect the wind developer’s plans, given his position with Orsted.

Prior to being hired by Orsted as Deputy Head of Government and Market Affairs in June of 2021, McCurry’s LinkedIn page shows that he spent 3 years in legislative and government relations inside the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection following a brief stint as Aide to Governor Murphy in 2018.

Montgomery told NJ Spotlight News that the timing suggests that Murphy wanted to avoid public controversy before the election and to get the names approved quickly by the Senate before the new legislative session begins in January.  Before they would become final, the nominations would need to be approved by the state senate.

In response to the backlash, the Murphy administration agreed on December 7 to withdraw Montero from his slate of nominees, leaving Matos as well as Orsted’s McCurry for review by the senate.