LETTER Sierra Club Fights to Stay Involved in Exxon Case

Today the Sierra Club, along with other environmental groups, is filing an appeal to the trial judges’ decision on not allowing us to intervene in the Exxon settlement. We are appealing Judge Hogan’s decision to the Appellate Decision. We were denied the right to intervene as a party to the Exxon case. We believe the settlement is wrong and Exxon should be responsible for the environmental damages impacted. Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, released the following statement:

“We are appealing the trial judge’s decision not to allow us to intervene because we believe he was wrong. We’re also seeking a stay of any settlement ruling by the judge until our appeal is resolved. This Exxon settlement/sell-out is too important for us not to appeal. This settlement is a bad deal for the taxpayers and the environment and needs to be blocked. We are seeking to be a party to this case because the DEP is not representing the public. The DEP is more concerned about Exxon than they are about protecting New Jersey’s environment. New Jersey has the tradition of the court allowing environmental groups to join these suits and we should be allowed to be involved in this one. We will continue our fight to prevent the settlement from going forward and try to represent the public’s interest since the DEP will not. We will continue to fight this sellout.

“We believe that the judge should have allowed us to participate in the case because we have important information that the DEP is not bringing to light. The settlement is outrageous and now what the DEP is doing is outrageous. The DEP said from the beginning we should become an amicus and then they opposed us doing so. The DEP does not want us involved in the case because they have been deliberately withholding information on the 16 sites as well as 800 gas stations. We believe that the record on the settlement is incomplete on the need to restore 1,500 acres of wetlands; not just cap them and pave them over. We wanted to enter the case so we can force the DEP to release that information. They don’t want the public to know just how dirty this deal is. They want to sell out to Exxon instead of fighting for what the people deserve. They’ve been misleading the public and the court as well. We are doing this so that we can enter the case and bring in new information to block the settlement.

“They’re settling for less than pennies on the dollar but we have DEP’s own studies showing that their damages are $8.9 billion. We need to show that DEP’s actions were arbitrary and capricious and we can do this by using their own studies against them. We need to overcome the presumption of validity that the DEP has in court by showing how one-sided the settlement is. We can meet those challengers because this settlement is so bad that the state is not only giving away billions of dollars but also adding the additional sites and extinguishing additional liabilities for Exxon. By calling the pollution ‘alleged’, the DEP allows Exxon to write off one-third of the settlement cost on their taxes. This tax break adds insult to injury to the people in those communities who have been impacted by all the pollution. When you visit the site you can stand ankle deep in ‘alleged’ oil, but it’s there. The more you look into this deal it gets worse and worse.

“We knew Exxon would oppose our involvement because they’re getting a great deal. However, DEP’s opposition is shameful since they should be on the side of the environment. The DEP is more interested in protecting Exxon than the people of New Jersey. They do not want us to file because it will bring in transparency and openness to the process and show that this deal is a sham. We can bring in information about why the settlement hurts the environment and costs taxpayers money as well as expert reports to show that Exxon is getting left off the hook. DEP and Exxon are working together to keep us out of the case because they don’t want the facts to be given to the judge nor do they want this sellout to be exposed. The DEP does not want the public to be involved or understand why this is such a bad deal. They want to do this dirty deal behind closed doors. What DEP did is disgraceful because they are a governmental agency that is supposed to support the people and the environment and uphold the public trust. We wanted to file the brief to uphold the public trust that the DEP broke.

“We want to represent the people of New Jersey and the 70,000 people who commented against this settlement. The DEP’s response to comments is part of the lies and misinformation they have been spreading all along; they have ignored what people had to say. We hope the judge reads the comments and sees through the DEP’s spins. One of the reasons we wanted to intervene is so those comments will not only be included in the record, but the judge will understand how important they are. This is the biggest corporate giveaway in state history and Exxon and the DEP doesn’t want us to represent the public. The DEP now stands for the ‘Department of Exxon Protection.’ We wanted to see the money go where it belonged: to the people and communities who have been impacted by Exxon’s pollution. The Sierra Club will continue to fight this settlement in court. We will fight to uphold the Spill Act, Natural Resource Damages, and the Public Trust Doctrine. We will be joined by other environmental groups to fight to stop this settlement from going forward.

“We are appealing this case because we are continuing to fight. We are also seeking a stay on that this settlement can’t happen until the Appellate Court rules on our appeal to intervene. Each time you look the deal gets worse and worse. This is the biggest corporate tax subsidy in state history. This settlement is costing the taxpayers billions of dollars and leaving hazardous contaminants in New Jersey. The DEP is withholding important information and the court should realize that they aren’t being truthful. This isn’t a settlement; it’s a sellout. Even though we have not yet been able to intervene in the case, we’re going to keep fighting. The people of New Jersey deserve it since the DEP has sided with polluters over the public.”

 

Jamie Zaccaria