Letter – N.J. Sierra Club Begins Campaign against Exxon Settlement

The New Jersey Sierra Club has begun a campaign to comment on the proposed settlement of the state of New Jersey with Exxon Mobil. The settlement has been posted by the NJ DEP and will be open to the public to view and comment until June 6, 2015. This is an opportunity for the public speak out about this deal and file comments by e-mail or mail to the NJ DEP. Under the proposed deal, New Jersey would receive $225 million, instead of the original $8.9 billion in damages the state asked for. The money was for restoring the site for the contamination and loss of more than 1,500 acres of wetlands, marshes, meadows, and waters.


“We are launching a grassroots campaign to get the public involved in stopping the Exxon Mobil settlement. We want to channel the public’s outrage into action and have sent an alert to our 65,000 member supporters. Our campaign will reach to thousands of people to comment against this dirty deal. Our hope is to get the DEP to change their mind and go back to court. We believe if enough people oppose this settlement we can get the judge block this settlement change. The public must prevent this settlement to move forward by making comments. We plan on fighting this settlement vigorously. We plan on doing a public campaign to get the people to comment, and intervening in the court case to block the settlement. The DEP calls it a settlement everyone else else calls it a sellout,” said Jeff Tittel Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The Christie Administration thinks that the “E” in DEP stands for Exxon not ‘Environment.’ It’s the Department of Environmental Protection. Not the Department of Exxon Protection. Together we block this corporate give away.”


The proposed settlement was expanded to include sites that were not in the original lawsuit and now they are settling for even less. In addition to the two refineries, the site now includes 16 sites. The DEP also allows the Linden refinery to keep polluting without doing any clean-ups under the refinery itself. This case was filed in 2004 by the McGreevy administration for the damages that Exxon has done to the environment around the Bayonne and Linden refineries. We had worked and supported the McGreevy Administration on this case. Exxon has been under Administrative Consent Order for the Bayway refinery since 1991 to clean-up the site and they have to do that anyway.


“There are no hearings for this settlement and only a 60 day comment period so you only have to act quickly and get comments in. Time is of the essence,” said Tittel. We cannot allow this sellout settlement to stand.”


In the court case, the site was ordered to restore the site not just cap it.  The settlement includes Paulsboro Refinery (a 950 acres site), Flemington and Pennington oil depots, Edison Research Lab, Linden oil depot and many other contaminated sites throughout New Jersey. The settlement includes over 600 gas stations that have leaked billions of gallons, not MTBEs, but includes other pollution and gasoline like Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that impact public health. This is the biggest giveaway since those sites are extremely contaminated and impact streams and wetlands.


“When you finally read the deal, it’s even worse because it includes 16 other contaminated sites as well as contamination from hundreds of gas stations. The Christie Administration calls this the largest settlement in history, but it’s really the largest sellout in state history. Instead of going after the 9 billion dollars we are entitled, the Christie administration settled for 3 cents on the dollar. This is an abuse of power that lets polluters off the hook and hurts our environment. Now the public comment period has started we have our one chance to speak out against this dirty deal. We have been upset and outraged by the proposed settlement of the state of New Jersey with Exxon Mobil. Now is your chance to publicly oppose this settlement,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The DEP statement does not pass the strait-face test. If they were Pinocchio, their nose would be in San Diego by now. This settlement destroys the environment and rips off the tax payers of New Jersey. It is the biggest Corporate Subsidy in state history.”

“New Jersey was winning this case all along. The judge was ready to come out with his decision so the Christie Administration undercut the judge and took the side of Exxon. New Jersey, after working on this settlement for years gives away billions of dollars from the people of New Jersey. These lands were held in the public trust. The Governor and the Attorney General have violated that trust. This is a shameful manipulation of the judicial system. Instead of protecting the environment and the taxpayers, the Christie Administration wants to protect Exxon. Exxon one time broke a record making over $40 billion in one quarter, I guess the Christie Administration wants them to break that record at the expense of New Jersey taxpayers,” said Tittel.


Under the new deal, Exxon does not have to clean-up the site to the extent that they had to before. That is a difference between site restoration and remediation. In the original court case, Exxon would have had to restore the site to its original conditions before the spill. They would have to remove all the oil and chemicals and then restore the wetlands to the state. Now Exxon can just cap the site, which is not really a clean-up. Capping the site would mean Exxon would be required to simply fill the site and not completely restore it. So instead of cleaning it up they would this would leave tons of oil and chemicals in the ground. That would mean that the sites would still be contaminated with potential of oil leaking into the groundwater. The next time there is a storm, the toxins end up spreading to people’s basements and homes through vapor intrusion.


“We now have a list of all 16 sites and it shows that the dirty deal has gotten even dirtier. The Paulsboro site itself has contaminated wetlands and tidal marshes and can cost billions dollars alone. These other sites include other significant environment impacts. Sites at Riverdale and Butler have contaminated wells and streams. This settlement includes over 600 gas stations that have not only impacted wells and streams, but fumes and vapors have entered people’s homes. Again, the DEP only requires the site to undergo remediation which is only capping and filling the site, not completely restoring it,” said Tittel. “DEP is trying to claim this is the biggest settlement in state history but it’s really the biggest sellout.”


“The Governor said this was a “good deal,” yeah for Exxon, not for the people of N.J. The state was winning this case all along and it makes no sense to settle. Instead of waiting for the judge’s decision, the Administration circumvented the judge for pennies on the dollar. The pollution on this site from Exxon was “staggering” according to Christie Administration court filed brief. The administration had no reason to settle, other than giving away the store to Exxon at the expense our environment. It’s a “dirty deal done dirt cheap,” said Tittel.


“What makes this settlement even worse is that the Administration can take settlement monies in cases like this to fill budget wholes. This may be the incentive behind the settlement. Monies from natural resources belong to the public not to politicians. Under New Jersey law, the public is to be compensated for the loss of those public resources,” said Tittel.

In the current budget and proposed next year’s budget there is language that would allow environment settlement money over $50 million can be diverted to the general fund. This already happened with the Passaic River when $140 million was taken for the budget. Under this language, they can take $175 million from the Exxon settlement. Historically, money from these settlements has gone to environmental programs and communities impacted by pollution, not for budget gimmicks.


“This is the biggest corporate tax subsidy in state history. In some ways it is a bigger scandal than Bridgegate. Bridgegate was about retribution: this settlement is costing the taxpayers billions of dollars. When you sell out the public and let the polluters off the hook, it sends a message that you can get away with anything in the Christie Administration. That is why it’s important for the public to participate in the comment period,” said Tittel. “The public needs to put in their two cents to prevent the giveaway of billions of taxpayer dollars.”


The comment period lasts 60 days and will be taken until June 5, 2015. Written comments can be submitted electronically to exxonmobilbaywaysettlement@dep.nj.gov, with the subject “Exxon Mobil Bayway Settlement” or in hard copy to:


Office of Record Access


Attn: Exxon Mobil Bayway Comments

P.O. Box 420 Mail Code 401-06Q

Trenton, N.J. 08625-0420