Christie blocks Barnegat Bay pollution limits

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie Thursday conditionally vetoed a bill to establish limits on chemicals in Barnegat Bay. Calling the time frame set out in the bill unrealistic, he sent a version back to the Legislature asking for five years instead of two to determine if a “total maximum daily load” is necessary.

    The governor said the state needs to set nutrient standards for saltwater estuaries before it can determine if Barnegat is “impaired,” the designation required before a maximum daily load can be set.

    “You can’t just assume you think you might know what the proper response is, you have to have some backing for it,”  state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Ragonese said. “You have to have the science.”

    A daily load is a pollution budget that sets federally enforceable limits on the amount of chemicals such as nitrogen and phosphorus that can be emitted into the bay.

    Bill sponsor Assemblyman John McKeon said he was disappointed with the changes. He said more time for study further endangers the bay and strips the bill of its effectiveness.

    “Left to its own designs, 20 years has passed and the DEP hasn’t moved forward in the direction of a (total maximum daily load) for the bay,” McKeon said. “A  two-year time frame would have created a priority.”

    Scientists have linked excessive nitrogen levels to the algae blooms and stinging jellyfish that have overrun the bay.

    In December, the governor released a bay cleanup plan. In January, he signed a law limiting nitrogen in fertilizers.

    Bill Wolfe, director of the New Jersey chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, considers the vetoed bill as the most important  in the package because it had the most regulatory clout.

    “This would change the game completely and make it a mandatory requirement of federal and state entities based upon the best science,” Wolfe said.

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