- Associated Press - Friday, January 29, 2016

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - The head of a state commission studying a proposed natural gas pipeline backed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s administration has been removed as the panel’s chairman two years after he voted against the plan.

Mark Lohbauer said Friday he had done some things to upset the administration, but stopped short of calling his removal payback.

Christie spokesman Brian Murray says Lohbauer, a Republican, was removed as chairman of the Pinelands Commission on Thursday to give another commissioner a chance to chair the board after his nearly five-year tenure.

“It was nothing more than that,” Murray said.

The Christie administration tapped Sean Earlen, a Republican Burlington County representative to take his place. Lohbauer remains a member of the commission.

Lohbauer says he wasn’t given a reason for being removed as chair. He says his vote against the proposed southern New Jersey pipeline in Cumberland and Cape May counties likely upset the administration.

“I’m sure I did a lot of things that may have upset the governor’s office,” he said. “My bottom line is I’m grateful to the governor for letting me serve.”

The Pinelands Commission oversees the roughly 1-million preserve that covers parts of seven counties and nearly a quarter of the state’s land area.

Lohbauer voted against the proposed pipeline in January 2014, leaving the panel in a stalemate and the pipeline in limbo. The plan continues to await final approval from the state’s utilities board.

Business and labor groups support the pipeline for the jobs it would create. Environmental groups oppose it on the grounds it could harm sensitive terrain if natural gas seeps into groundwater.

The South Jersey Gas pipeline would bring gas to the B.L. England power plant in Cape May County that’s switching from coal to natural gas as part of an agreement with the state Department of Environmental Protection.

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