LETTER – Exxon Sell-Out: Court Case Scheduled Sept. 11th

Our day in Court for oral arguments to appeal the Exxon Settlement has been scheduled for Monday, September 11th. The New Jersey Sierra Club and other environmental groups plan to appeal Judge Hogan’s decision to uphold the Exxon settlement at the Appellate Court. The groups represented in the case believe that the settlement hurts both the environment and the taxpayers and DEP has not properly represented the public. Exxon should be responsible for the environmental damages impacted at three refineries, 16 sites and over 800 gas stations throughout New Jersey. By appealing the case, we plan to uphold the Spill Act, make sure there are proper Natural Resource Damages assessed and uphold the Public Trust Doctrine. We also believe we have right to intervene under the Environmental Rights Act and the Judge should not have denied us that right. The Court Date will take place on the 5th Floor North Wing of the Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex in Trenton at 9:30 AM.

 

“We are going to have our day in Court to try to stop the Exxon Settlement. We are the ones representing the people of New Jersey against Governor Christie’s sellout of our environment that takes care of Exxon. We are appealing the Judge’s decision because he signed off on Christie’s biggest corporate subsidy in state history. Our appeal will uphold the Public Trust Doctrine and make sure communities impacted by pollution get cleaned up,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “With this case, the DEP did not act in good faith and we want to overturn the Judge’s terrible decision. The people of New Jersey have been victimized twice- first by the pollution and second by the state settling less than $225 million for natural resource damages estimating more than $8.9 billion at two refineries and then adding 16 additional sites, and over 800 gas stations. What is more outrageous is by not cleaning up their mess, Exxon will get another billion-dollar tax break. That’s why we have appealed this case to make sure the polluters pay and the people are compensated for this pollution.”

 

The Christie Administration agreed to settle for less than $225 million for estimated natural resources damages of over $8.9 billion from Exxon’s contamination at two refineries. However, they even added 16 sites and over 800 gas stations to the settlement. What is even more concerning is that DEP announced that it would not be spending the settlement money to rectify the natural resource damages that Exxon had caused. DEP also released Exxon from liability under federal statutes including Superfund or Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) and the Oil Pollution Act that were not alleged in the Amended Complaint nor had these claims ever been a part of the litigation before the settlement was announced.

 

“We are going back to Court because the Judge sided with Governor Christie in this toxic settlement, which let Exxon off the hook from cleaning up this mess. By settling this case, the Administration has saved Exxon billions of dollars at the expense of the taxpayers and violated New Jersey law. We are suing under the Environmental Rights Act, which gives us standing to enter the case, the Spill Act that requires the cleanup of sites in a timely fashion, and against the DEP’s violation to the federal statue in CERCLA and the Oil Pollution Act. DEP does not even have the authorization to settle CERCLA claims. What is even more outrageous is that the DEP has even admitted that the small amount of money received from the settlement will not even be going to natural resource damages—it will go to filing the budget and lawyer fees,” said Tittel.

 

Under New Jersey case law, we have the right to challenge Judges decisions and the case law is on our side. DEP does not deserve the presumption of validity because they are more interested in protecting Exxon than the people of New Jersey or the environment. By appealing this case, we can prove that the settlement clearly violates the Spill Act because it requires clean-ups to include restoration; however with this deal the NJDEP is not requiring restoration. The settlement does not restore the 1,500 acres of wetlands; it just caps them and paves them over.

 

“Our appeal will overturn the settlement that protects Exxon over the people of New Jersey and the environment. Judge Hogan did not follow the law or precedent, look at all the facts, and deliberately left us out of this case. We are suing under the Environmental Rights Act because the Judge was wrong to block us from entering the case. Under the Environment Rights Act, citizen groups have the right to challenge settlements by state agencies. The settlement also clearly violated the Spill Act because it requires clean-ups to include restoration and does include a timely clean-up. We are fighting to make sure Exxon cleans up the mess they made and restores 1500 wetlands, while getting the funding to the communities that have been hurt. The settlement also denied the public right to comment on the 16 additional sites and 800 gas stations added to the case, which also violates the Spill Act,” said Jeff Tittel. “While the Governor is clearly more concerned with corporate polluters, DEP looked the other way on the additional sites added to the case.”

 

The state does not want us to intervene because it will uphold the Public Trust Doctrine and make sure polluters pay. Under New Jersey law the public has the right to be compensated for the loss of public resources. Wetlands, groundwater, waterways, and fisheries belong to the people of New Jersey and are held in the public trust. By settling this case, the Governor has violated that public trust. Even worse the Judge went along with the state to sell out of our environment to Exxon and then he tried to block us from intervening.

 

“We want the Appellate Court to reverse the trial Judge’s terrible decision. We are going to keep fighting this sellout no matter what it takes. Our appeal will require DEP to do job it hasn’t done, which is to force Exxon to clean up its mess. What is even more shameful is that the DEP sided with Exxon using taxpayer money to uphold the settlement,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “If we win the case, the state gets more money, so why are they opposing us? The Christie Administration is clearly more concerned with Exxon making more profits than cleaning up contaminated sites. That is why we will protect the citizens of the state as well as the environment and the public trust since the Christie Administration no longer does.”

Toni Granato
Administrative Assistant 

New Jersey Sierra Club