The New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club is endorsing independent candidate Chris Daggett in the governor's race, it announced yesterday.

Daggett, 59, of Bernards Township, Somerset County, is an environmental consultant who served as the state's commissioner for the Department of Environmental Protection under Gov. Thomas H. Kean. Before that, he was the regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Ronald Reagan.

This is the first time the state chapter of the Sierra Club has endorsed an independent gubernatorial candidate.

Daggett is running against Gov. Corzine, a Democrat, and Republican Christopher J. Christie in the Nov. 3 election.

"The Sierra Club not only made the principled choice but the right choice," said Jeff Tittel, director of the group. "Chris Daggett has shown leadership and a real commitment to protecting our environment. He has demonstrated his willingness to stand up to special interests and politicians to do what's right for the environment."

Daggett has said that if elected, he plans to establish a permanent and stable source of funding to preserve open space. In recent years, the state has relied on bond measures to pay for open space.

He also said he would bolster the Department of Environmental Protection, whose workforce has been cut from 4,000 employees when he was commissioner to fewer than 3,000 today.

"Only an independent governor can make the nonpartisan decisions that face the state to benefit the public interest, not special interests," Daggett said. "While we don't always agree, the Sierra Club knows that I decide issues based on the best science and public policy, balancing environmental protection and economic development. A good economy and environmental protection go hand in hand."

In 2005, the state Sierra Club endorsed Corzine, then a U.S. senator, in the governor's race.

The Sierra Club has been critical of much in the Corzine administration's environmental record, including legislation to extend building permits and to allow polluters to hire their own contractors to clean up contaminated properties.