Sen. Lee Zeldin, the recipient of this year’s so-called “Oil Slick” Award from the Environmental Advocates of New York, defended his opposition to the MTA payroll tax, which advocates said was an effort to “defund” public transporation.

“Repealing the MTA payroll tax is essential to strengthening our economy and creating jobs so that we can generate the revenues we need to support New York’s environmental protection programs,” Zeldin, a Long Island Republican, said in a statement.

“My constituents want it repealed, I’m proud of the progress we made this year, and I look forward to continuing my efforts in 2012.”

The MTA payroll tax was a major issue in the 2010 Senate elections, with incumbent lawmakers in New York City’s suburban counties forced defend the hike. It was likely a major factor in Zeldin’s race against Brian Foley, along with Jack Martins’s victory over Craig Johnson. The tax was also a big issue in the Westchester race against Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer, who narrowly defeated Republican Bob Cohen.

Expect repeal of the tax to be a major push by Senate Republicans again in 2012 — also an election year.

Environmental Advocates, however, say the tax is needed to keep the trains running and polluting cars off the road. The group rated Zeldin’s repeal legislation “the dirtiest” introduced this year.

“His bill was rated the dirtiest piece of legislation introduced in 2011, because it would worsen air quality and increase climate-altering pollution and traffic congestion. Thankfully, the legislation failed to receive an Assembly vote.”

And Senate Democrats chimed in with a statement of their own on the scorecard, which rated the Senate GOP conference the worst in the Legislature when it comes to environmental issues:

“The Senate Republicans’ record on the environment is an unmitigated disaster, especially among their Long Island members. This is a reminder why New York’s environment is in danger every moment they are in power. The Senate Democrats stand ready to protect the environment and will continue that fight when we retake the majority.