By WAYNE PARRY
PEMBERTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) a¿¿ This is the other New Jersey.
Far from the gas tanks, chemical plants and toll booths that have come to define the state in the minds of many, the Pinelands consist of more than a million acres of dense forest, wildlife and wetlands.
A flight over the region would reveal a canopy of lush green foliage as far as the eye can see, in a part of the state sometimes referred to as "the lungs of New Jersey." Endangered or threatened wildlife ranging from tree frogs and salamanders to bobcats, eagles and butterflies call its gnarly pine trees and sandy soil home.
But just outside the Pinelands sits the main power plant for southern New Jersey, one that has long created concern with the high levels of pollution its coal burners cause. The BL England plant recently agreed to switch from coal to natural gas to avoid being ordered to shut down by New Jersey environmental authorities.
And that is the center of one of the biggest jobs-vs.-environment clashes in recent New Jersey history.
A state agency tasked with protecting the Pinelands a¿¿ also called the Pine Barrens a¿¿ while managing development in responsible ways will try to balance those needs next month. On Jan. 10, the New Jersey Pinelands Commission will decide whether to approve a 22-mile natural gas pipeline through the woods to the power plant.
Six months of public hearings and contentious meetings have only raised the temperature, pitting conservation of the largest tract of wild space between Virginia and Boston against the desire for jobs and reliable energy for southern New Jersey, including teeming Atlantic City and its casinos. The commission's vote is the last obstacle to the plan by South Jersey Gas, which has already gotten other approvals it needs.