HACKENSACK, N.J. — Gov. Chris Christie has refused to join a coalition of eight Eastern states seeking to curb air pollution blowing in from Midwest and Southern coal-fired power plants that help make New Jersey’s air quality among the worst in the nation.
The move to reject a petition filed Monday with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency follows a series of similar actions by Christie to withdraw from multistate initiatives designed to address environmental problems. It also adds to criticism that Christie, a potential Republican presidential candidate, makes some decisions based on appeasing red and swing states rather than looking out solely for the interests of New Jerseyans.
All eight governors who signed on to the coalition are Democrats. The three who did not are Republicans.
“He’s turning his back on the lungs of New Jersey residents,” said Doug O’Malley, director of the advocacy group Environment New Jersey, about Christie. “It’s clear Midwest power plants contribute to the poor air quality here. And it’s clear Governor Christie is not doing his job if he’s not protecting New Jersey residents from this.”
Both a Christie spokesman and a state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman did not return repeated requests for comment on Monday.
The petition seeks commitments from nine upwind states — Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia — to protect the health of downwind residents and to level the playing field for businesses.
“We’re paying a steep public health and economic price for the failure of upwind states to make investments needed to operate power plants and industrial facilities in a clean and efficient manner,” said Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, who is spearheading the petition. “Now is the ideal time to get the upwind polluters to take action.”
The petition was signed by the Democratic governors of Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont that belong to the Ozone Transport Region, a group of 11 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states under EPA orders to reduce air pollution. Along with Christie, the Republican governors of Pennsylvania and Maine refused to sign.
A spokesman for Malloy said he didn’t know why Christie, who suffers from asthma, or the other governors did not join the petition.
“New Jersey is a member of Ozone Transport Commission and, as such, they were aware of the petition and they were invited to be part of it,” said David Bednarz, a spokesman for Malloy. “You would need to speak with them to find out why they took the position they did.”
All of this comes as Christie continues to raise his national profile. As the new chairman of the Republican Governors Association, he is expected to crisscross the country next year raising money and supporting GOP candidates in the 36 states with gubernatorial races.
But some Republicans like U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., continue to attack Christie for not being conservative enough to merit the GOP nomination in the 2016 primaries. Joining a coalition that seeks to curb fossil fuel use in states heavily dependent on them could further increase those criticisms.
In 2011, Christie withdrew New Jersey from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a nine-state cap-and-trade system to limit power plant emissions associated with climate change. He argued the plan did not work and increased electric costs for state residents.
Last year, he withdrew New Jersey from a lawsuit filed by environmentalists and other states that argues the federal standard to restrict ozone emissions is too weak. A spokesman at the time said the state didn’t want to waste resources on litigation when the Obama administration was planning to roll out new ozone standards in 2014.
Christie also pulled New Jersey out of another multistate lawsuit to defend an EPA rule that restricts carbon emissions that cross state lines from coal plants in the Midwest.
Despite those moves, Christie has targeted a few dirty plants for a reduction in emissions. New Jersey appealed to the EPA to force a coal-fired power plant in Portland, Pa., to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide. And the DEP has participated in lawsuits against the owners of a plant in western Pennsylvania and against Allegheny Energy Inc. to cut emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide that blow into New Jersey.