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Old 10-09-2009, 01:24 PM
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Environmental group criticizes Corzine, backs Christie

Key environmental group calls Corzine 'hugely disappointing' and backs Christie
By Matt Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com Reporter

Citing a string of broken promises from Gov. Jon Corzine, New Jersey's largest environmental group today backed former U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie for Governor - the first time the organization has endorsed a statewide Republican since its inception.

Members of the political arm of the New Jersey Environmental Federation - which endorsed Corzine in 2005 -- said they were "hugely disappointed" by Corzine's first term environmental record. They specifically mentioned his lack of action in working to create more cooling towers for nuclear plants, a drop off in waterway protection, lack of a commitment to environmental justice and failing to takes sides on a proposed coal plant in Linden.

"We expect our political leaders to take on our environmental issues and problems and provide good solutions that are in the best interest of the environment," said Sharon Finlayson, who chairs the NJEF's five-member Vote Environment Committee. "When that fails it is time for change. We believe that the change we see will be found in Chris Christie."

The state's three major environmental groups have all snubbed Corzine this year. The New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club went for independent Chris Daggett, a former Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) commissioner and regional EPA administrator. The other major group, Environment New Jersey, opted not to endorse anyone.

The NJEF's leaders said they were won over by Christie's opposition to deepening the Delaware River; his promise to restore the DEP's Division of Science and Research, which was eliminated under Corzine; his support for retrofitting diesel engines used under state contracts; stop the "fish slaughter" from cooling systems at Salem and Oyster Creek and his stated opposition to the Linden coal plant.

"We've been hugely disappointed [in Corzine]" said Ben Forest, a member of the committee that voted to endorse Christie. "A lot of environmental promises and he failed to effectively lead. On many levels, I am sorry I cannot support his re-election."

Christie, who was flanked at today's press conference by environment-friendly Republicans -- state Sen. Bill Baroni (R-Hamilton) and U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton) -- burnished his record prosecuting environmental crimes as U.S. Attorney - most notably against the Atlantic State Company.

Christie blamed Corzine for the elimination of hundreds of streams from the C1 classification - the highest standard of waterway cleanliness - saying that he caved to political pressure from lobbyists and special interests to downgrade the classification. He also ripped into Corzine for failing to commit to funding open space - a complaint often cited by environmental groups - and the "decimation by his Attorney General of the environmental crimes bureau."

"Our DEP and this governor's office will make the decision based upon science, and not upon who brings what political pressure to bear inside the governor's office," said Christie.

Christie said he wants to create a constitutionally dedicated fund for open space, and that using a portion of the sales tax "makes the most sense to do that."

Amy Goldsmith, the NJEF State Director, said that candidate viability did factor into the group's endorsement making process, but that "we really looked at the strength of the commitments on the issues. It actually weighed more than issues of viability."

David Pringle, the group's Campaign Director, said that Christie had the best environmental platform regardless of viability.

"Chris Daggett's a great guy... this endorsement isn't a criticism of him,' he said. "This endorsement is because [Christie] is the environmental candidate in this race, and this Governor is not."

Pringle said that he was concerned about press accounts from April, when Christie - who was then enmeshed in a competitive primary race with conservative Steve Lonegan - promised significant cuts at the DEP. But Christie appeased the group with his interview and questionnaire answers.

Attending the press conference but not participating was Sierra Club New Jersey Director Jeff Tittel, who later voiced deep skepticism about Christie's environmental promises.

"He said a lot of good things when we interviewed him, too," he said. "But the concern we have is people who run for office tell us everything and do the opposite, like Whitman in 93 and Corzine in '05."

Nevertheless, Tittel said he was happy that Christie proposed a "strong environmental agenda" and said the endorsement demonstrated that all of the state's environmental groups "believe Jon Corzine has done a poor job or has failed."

Although the endorsement was unprecedented, it is not likely to change the dynamic of the governor's race, according to Monmouth University Polling Institute Director Patrick Murray, who attributed the endorsement to a "tiff between different wings of the environmental movement here in New Jersey at odds with each other."

"At the end of the day, these environmental groups don't put voters in the polling booths," he said.

Matt Friedman is a PolitickerNJ.com Reporter and can be reached via email at matt@politicsnj.com.

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chris christie, corzine, daggett, environment

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