New Jersey Governor Christie vetoes environmental bill passed after Exxon deal

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie makes remarks at a Leadership Series Forum hosted by the Northern Virginia Technology Council and the Consumer Electronics Association, at McLean, Virginia, in this May 1, 2015, file photo. REUTERS/Mike Theiler/Files

(Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Monday vetoed legislation that would have directed more money from environmental legal settlements to be used to fund cleanups of pollution.

The Democrat-led legislature passed the bill in the wake of a controversial $225 million settlement the Christie administration reached with Exxon Mobil Corp.

"The protection and preservation of the ecological wonders of which New Jersey is so proud have always been critical considerations when weighing where New Jersey's limited budget dollars should be delivered, but there are always challenging decisions that must be made when balancing a complex State budget," Christie said in his veto message.

Critics have questioned the timing, motivation and size of the Exxon agreement, which was announced in March after more than a decade of litigation. The state had once calculated damages at $8.9 billion from environmental contamination at two of Exxon's former New Jersey refineries.

Currently, the first $50 million of environmental settlements, like the one struck with Exxon, is used for restoration. Any remaining money can go into the state's general fund.

The bill Christie vetoed called instead for 50 percent of that remaining money to be used for environmental purposes as well.

The state must finalize a fiscal 2016 budget by the end of June, but several big expenses - including a large pension contribution - are still being hashed out.

(Reporting by Hilary Russ in New York; Editing by Chris Reese)