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Christie needs to improve his environment grade

Gov. Christie has received a well-deserved failing grade for his environmental policies.

He appointed a global-warming skeptic to the Board of Public Utilities, and an opponent of the Highlands Act to the council that must enforce that water- and land-preservation law. He put industry representatives in water-quality positions, pulled out of a regional program to reduce greenhouse gases, and weakened rules allowing beach access.

No wonder the New Jersey Environmental Federation gave Christie a D-minus on his environmental policies. In fact, some people wonder why it took so long.

But they have to consider that the same group endorsed Christie when he ran for governor in 2009. At the time, he seemed to understand that New Jersey has some of the nation's toughest environmental regulations because it needs them.

That need is also why environmental rules have long had bipartisan support, with both Democratic and Republican governors taking them seriously.

Decades of manufacturing and its historical role as a garbage dump for New York and Philadelphia have fouled the state's waterways, air, and land. Atlantic County, for example, has some of the state's worst air quality because Philadelphia's smog blows east. New Jersey's robust highway system, which makes it attractive to businesses needing to ship products, also comes at the cost of dirty air from polluting vehicles.

With manufacturing waning, new sources of water pollution include development-driven sewage and chemical runoff from lawns.

In a few decades, New Jersey is expected to become the first state to be entirely "built out." But Christie has done little to organize future housing and commercial development. Unfortunately, his administration is all but abandoning planning guidelines that encourage development near cities and suburbs to keep the few remaining rural areas clean and clear.

The governor also has weakened the state's goals to conserve energy and its response to global warming. He vetoed a bill that would have banned natural-gas fracturing in the state.

Christie did get good grades for opposing offshore oil drilling, anathema to the state's residents and a career-ender for governors. But he has failed to use his national spotlight to push the issue. He opposes liquefied natural gas plants offshore and encouraged an offshore wind mill farm. These are good moves, and Christie should build on them.

Overall, though, environmentalists feel as if they have sludge on their faces for endorsing him.

"There has been a continual and steady decline in his environmental policy-making. Coincidental or not, his environmental platform and commitments began to evaporate as his national stardom rose," said Sharon Finlayson, chairwoman of the New Jersey Environmental Federation's political committee.

Whatever Christie's political ambitions may be, his first obligation is to the people of New Jersey. To make up for his poor environmental record, the governor must first acknowledge the importance of effective environmental rules in one of the nation's most polluted states.