LETTER Christie Exxon Settlement Sell Out for New Jersey

Exxon Mobile has settled with the state of New Jersey for around $250 million, instead of the original $8.9 billion, for the contamination and loss of more than 1,500 acres of wetlands, marshes, meadows, and waters. This case was filed in 2004 by the McGreevy administration for the damage Exxon mobile has done to the Meadowlands area. The New Jersey Sierra Club had worked and supported the McGreevy Administration on this case. Years of oil refining and other petrochemical operations led to the contamination and damage to the land and environment. The New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel released the following statement:

 

“This is an outrageous abuse of power by the administration selling out the environment and the tax payers of New Jersey. This is a case that New Jersey was going to win, but the Christie Administration decided to sell out the people of New Jersey. They settled this case for pennies on the dollar. Instead of going to court and getting $9 billion the tax payers of New Jersey are only going to get $250 million. This is a complete giveaway to corporate polluters. The pollution on this site from Exxon was “staggering” according to Christie Administration court filed brief. All along the judges were ruling in favor of New Jersey. The administration had no reason to settle, other than balancing the budget and giving away the store to Exxon at the expense of New Jersey’s environment.”

 

“Under New Jersey law the public has the right to be compensated for the loss of public resources. By settling this case the Governor has violated that public trust. Under the budget language, Natural Resources Damages exceeding $50 million can be used for budget shortfalls. This means that out of the $250 million from the settlement, the Administration can take $200 million to fund the general fund. The Christie Administration has settled this case fast to be able to use this money to help balance their budget. This settlement is just like the Passaic River dioxin settlement last year.  The administration settled the case for what should have been a $2 billion judgment, settling for $190 million then diverting $150 million to plug a hole in the budget. We are concerned that they are going to take this settlement money again to balance the budget, instead of using the money for environmental restoration or to help the people damaged by this pollution.”

 

Budget language:

 

Except as otherwise provided in this act and notwithstanding the provisions of any other law or regulation to the contrary, the first $50,000,000 in natural resource, cost recoveries and other associated damages recovered by the State, along with such additional amounts as may be determined by the Director of the Division of Budget and Accounting, in consultation with the Attorney General, to be necessary to pay for the costs of legal services related to such recoveries, shall be deposited into the Hazardous Discharge Site Cleanup Fund established pursuant to section 1 of P.L.1985, c.247 (C.58:10–23.34), and are appropriated for: direct and indirect costs of remediation, restoration, and clean up; costs for consulting, expert, and legal services  incurred in pursuing claims for damages; and grants to local governments and nonprofit organizations to further implement restoration activities of the Office of Natural Resource Restoration. Recoveries in excess of the amounts appropriated pursuant to this paragraph, consistent with the terms and conditions of applicable settlement agreements or court rulings, shall be deposited in the General Fund as general State revenue. 40

 

“This language in the budget that the Christie administration put in for the Passaic settlement is the law of the land. All settlements over $50 million, the Christie administration now has the right to steal for any purpose including the budget. This is blood money. This is money that rightfully belongs to the people of New Jersey to make up for the injury to the environment. This is money that should be going to restore marshes and wetlands. For helping people impacted by this pollution by funding health studies. The money should be used to create new parks or environmental restoration. Instead, the governor is diverting it for other purposes.  He can use it  for corporate subsidies since this is an administration that has given out over $5 billion in corporate subsidies. This is just another $8.9 billion dollar corporate giveaway.”

 

“When we let polluters off the hook it sends a very clear message to other regulated polluters and entities that in New Jersey under the Christie Administration you can get away with anything.  If you violate the environmental laws or destroy the environment, the Christie Administration will give you a little slap on the wrist. If a company has a problem at one of their facilities it would be cheaper for them to pollute the environment than to fix the problem. With this settlement, Governor Christie is saying to polluters it is open season in New Jersey. Under the Christie administration enforcement has gone done by 60% and fines have been cut by 2/3. The Governor is more concerned about taking care of corporate polluters, his national political agenda, Big Oil, and the Koch Brothers than he is about the people of New Jersey,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of The New Jersey Sierra Club.

 

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Nicole Dallara, Outreach Coordinator

New Jersey Sierra Club