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Christie and Buono on the Environment: The Sounds of Silence

In Christie’s first term, major gas and electric transmission projects have been approved in the Highlands, the source of drinking water for millions of New Jerseyans. In the Pinelands, the agency regulating development in the largest preserved woodland tract between Boston and Washington, D.C., is considering approving a gas pipeline through the Pinelands Forest Area to allow a utility to link to a power plant on the banks of Great Egg Harbor.

Clean energy advocates and environmentalists also are unhappy with the administration’s efforts to promote offshore wind farms, a goal endorsed by the administration’s Energy Master Plan. No offshore wind projects are even relatively close to being approved -- even though the plan recommends the development of 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2020.

Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for the Christie for Governor campaign, disputed the environmentalists’ assessments. “We’re extraordinarily proud of our environmental record,’’ Roberts said, citing the administration’s push to close down Oyster Creek; its efforts to preserve Barnegat Bay; and its move to close down polluting coal plants that are affecting the state’s air quality.

As for the failure to propose a stable source of funding for open-space preservation, Roberts said the governor laid out a broad vision in his initial campaign about a wide range of issues. “He never said it would be all accomplished in four years,’’ he said, noting the issue is still being looked at by the administration.

And when it comes to the waiver rule, Roberts noted that despite dire predictions from environmentalists, not a single waiver has yet be granted by the Department of Environmental Protection.

David Turner, a spokesman for Buono’s campaign, argued that the candidate is talking about environmental issues, including the impacts of climate change and extreme storms such as Hurricane Sandy, along with the governor's decision to pull out of a regional initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

On Buono’s website, however, there are only three paragraphs devoted to the environment, primarily dealing with the regional greenhouse gas initiative and the waiver rule, which she opposed. “Barbara will restore New Jersey’s leadership in clean energy and attracting solar and wind projects and spurring new hiring,’’ according to website.

Turner argued that part of the lack of focus on environmental issues is driven by the fact that New Jersey’s economy is lagging behind that of other states in the region. “Voters number one concern is getting the economy back on track,’’ he said.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club disagreed, arguing that the environment should be a decisive issue. “You have a governor that has rolled back environmental protections and weakened ones that were relatively popular,’’ he said, referring to the raiding of clean energy funds.

But Michael Egenton, a senior vice president at the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, argued the Christie administration has adopted a balanced approach between protecting the environment and economic development.

“We’ve done a lot to improve the environment,’’ Egenton said, citing the gains in air quality in New Jersey over the past two decades. “The governor’s record has been protective of the environment but also recognizing we need to have job growth and strengthen the economy.’’

Tittle discounts that argument, saying the state has failed to move aggressively on developing offshore wind farms and has allowed its solar sector to stagnate, causing the loss of thousands of jobs.

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