LETTER – CHRISTIE STEALS MORE FROM ENVIRONMENT SETTLEMENTS

The public was so outraged with the Christie Administration stealing of the settlement monies from the Passaic River and the sham Exxon Settlement, that the legislature voted to put a constitutional dedication on the ballot. Ballot Question #2 would ensure monies from environmental settlements would go to repair, preserve, replace, or preserve natural resources. Since the legislature put this on the November Ballot, the Christie Administration has settled five major Natural Resource Damage settlements totaling $235 million so they can plug holes in the budget. Recently they have settled one case per week for the past three weeks because they are trying to settle these cases quickly before the referendum is passed. In total, there is more than $500 million available from all of the environmental settlements settled by the Christie Administration.

 “Even after the outrage over Exxon and Passaic Settlements, the Christie Administration is at it again because they have no shame. Even though the legislature put a constitutional dedication on the ballot, the Christie Administration has continued the larceny on the environment. They are trying to grab as much money as they can before the public has a chance to stop him. Some of these MTBE cases were filed as long ago as 2007, but the Administration has done nothing until now. It is clear they are grabbing $235 million now before the constitutional dedication is passed to prevent stealing from environmental settlements. These cases were the result of MTBE contamination, which threatens drinking water and is a potential carcinogen,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “While the Governor is shortchanging the public, none of this money will go towards removing this toxic contamination and making sure polluters pay their fair share. What they are doing is rushing to settle these lawsuits and push them through the door before the door is locked and they cannot steal anymore.”

 

Constitutional dedication of monies received by the state in Natural Resource Damage litigation is critical given the Christie administration’s track record and the language in the current FY2016 budget that would allow up to $175 million to be diverted from the Exxon settlement to the General Fund. The budget allows Governor Christie to transfer any money from the Exxon settlement agreement over $50 million to the state General Fund under the currently proposed FY2016 budget language. Most of the remaining $50 million will go to lawyer fees, leaving almost nothing for the people who have been affected by the pollution. He has done this in the past, taking $140 million from the Passaic River cleanup litigation in the current budget.

 

“What the Administration is doing is trying to beat the clock before the public prevents the robbing of environmental settlements. This not only hurts the environment, but hurts the taxpayers. Instead of cleaning up communities threatened by pollution, the Governor wants to use this money for other programs. Two days ago, Governor Christie announced an opioid program without money to pay for it. Given the current budget language, $50 million from these settlements can go to DEP for lawyer fees and environmental programs, but they get to grab $200 million which is exactly the cost of the opioid program. These settlements are really Christie’s slash fund,” said Jeff Tittel. “All along the Christie Administration has favored polluters over the people. With these settlements, they have allowed Sunoco, ConocoPhillips, Shell, BP, and more to get away with a pave and wave. We don’t even know if this money is pennies on the dollar because there isn’t enough time to compare them to other MTBE cases across the country or know what the original charge was. When you sell out the public and let the polluters off the hook, it sends a message that you can get away with anything.”

 

The money from Natural Resource Damage lawsuits should go to remediating and restoring the site, local ecosystem, and local community.  In New Jersey, natural resources belong to all of us. That is called the Public Trust Doctrine. Rivers, streams, wetlands, marshes and fisheries are held in trust by government for the people. Under the New Jersey Spill Act of 1977, when you damage those resources you have to pay for loss of public use as well as for damages to those natural resources.

 

“While we are still in Court against the Exxon Settlement, if we lose the Christie Administration can steal over $400 million from all of these settlements. The Exxon Settlement is the biggest corporate giveaway in state history and would allow Exxon to get away over a hundred years of contamination at 18 sites and 800 gas stations. Wetlands, groundwater, waterways, and fisheries belong to the people of New Jersey and are held in the public trust. Polluters should be held responsible to pay for the damages to natural resources and the money must go where it is intended,” said Jeff Tittel.“People throughout New Jersey living near these sites were victimized first by the pollution and then they were victimized again by the Governor stealing the money from the settlements. By taking from these settlements, it threatens human health because MTBEs can impact drinking water wells and groundwater. We need people to vote Yes to block future administrations from robbing money for environmental clean ups. We need to stop the Great Environmental Heist.’”

 

Additionally, the legislature needs to change the law that the legislature passed in 1999 that prevented the DEP from collecting Natural Resource Damages through a program. Instead the only way to collect or access Natural Resource Damages was to go to court. The DEP has a program in place that would have automatically assessed damages to environment and assess a penalty. The legislature took the side of the polluters by forcing the state to go to court, setting up this dirty deal. The legislature can and should compel the DEP to put in place regulations so that the formula is clear and transparent to everyone on how much polluters actually owe the people of New Jersey for dumping toxic chemicals into our environment.

 

“We are going to be work to slow down these settlements so the public has their say and the environment is protected just like we did with the Exxon Settlement. We need to pass the constitutional dedication on environmental settlements to prevent Governors like Christie from violating the Public Trust. The only thing green about Governor Christie is the money he steals from environmental settlements,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “People must vote Yes for the constitutional dedication so that the communities and people who have been impacted by this pollution get the programs and environmental protections that they deserve.”

 

The list of settlements on the DEP website can be found below:

1.      Posted: September 5, 2017

Shell has agreed to settle alleged liability for damages, past cleanup and removal costs, and injunctive relief by paying $68,500,000 to the Department.

2.      Posted: August 21, 2017

BP has agreed to settle alleged liability for damages, past cleanup and removal costs, and injunctive relief by making two payments of $32,000,000.00 each plus Interest (as defined in the Judicial Consent Order) to the Department.

3.      Posted: August 7, 2017

Sunoco has agreed to settle alleged liability

for damages, past cleanup and removal costs, and injunctive relief by paying $64,000,000.00 to

the Department.

4.      Posted: February 21, 2017

ConocoPhillips has agreed to settle alleged

liability for damages, past cleanup and removal costs, and injunctive relief by paying

$39,000,000 to the Department.

5.      Posted: February 8, 2017

SPC/ Matawan, LLC must pay DEP $3,821.89 as compensation for alleged liability for damages and past cleanup and removal costs.

6.      Posted: August 15, 2016

Under the proposed Consent Decree, Crown Central has agreed to settle alleged liability

for past cleanup and removal costs and damages by paying $275,000 to the Department.

7.      Posted: October 19, 2015

Duke has agreed to settle alleged liability for past

cleanup and removal costs and damages by paying $1,700,000 to the Department.

8.      Posted: September 21, 2015

Coastal has agreed to settle alleged liability

for damages, past cleanup and removal costs, and injunctive relief by paying $20,000,000 to the Department.

9.      Posted: July 6, 2015

Vitol has agreed to settle alleged liability for past cleanup and removal costs and damages by paying $2,150,000 to the Department.

10.  Posted: June 15, 2015

The Creditor Representative (The Debtors, Reorganized Debtors and Lyondell-Citgo Refining LP, A Delaware Limited Partnership, referred to collectively as “Lyondell”) has agreed to settle alleged liability for damages, past cleanup and removal costs, and injunctive relief by allowing the Department a general unsecured claim under the Plan in the amount of $30,000,000.

11.  Posted: April 6, 2015

DEP settled less than $225,000,000 for estimated natural resources damages of over $8.9 billion from Exxon’s impacted at three refineries, 16 sites and over 800 gas stations throughout New Jersey.