LETTER – Thousands of Anti-ExxonMobil Settlement Comments Delivered at NJDEP

Today, hundreds of people came to rally against the proposed ExxonMobil settlement, including a broad coalition of state legislators, environmental activists, consumer, housing, and labor groups from across the state. These groups joined together at the State House Annex steps to oppose the deal and urge government officials to take action. In addition to asking the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to reject the proposed settlement, groups urged the passage of a constitutional dedication of monies from Natural Resource Damage (NRD) litigation to environmental purposes, such as the Exxon settlement, during the lobby day and rally.

 

“We are here today to try to stop the sellout of the environment and the taxpayers by the Christie Administration. Dozens of groups and tens of thousands of people put in comments in opposition to this dirty deal. We are here to prevent the settlement from going forward and do the job that DEP is supposed to do, which is to make polluters pay what they are supposed to pay. We are here to make sure that this could never happen again. We want to ensure monies from environmental damages and settlements go to environmental programs and people and communities impacted by pollution. We are here with a large coalition of labor, environmental, and housing people and our legislative allies to fight to end corporate giveaways and the sellout of the environment once and for all,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

 

The comment period ends on Friday, June 5, and thousands of people have already written letters, comment cards, and online petitions to NJDEP to stop this settlement. New Jersey Senator Raymond J. Lesniak (NJ-20) alone submitted 22,000 petitions online from people around the state. After the rally, the coalition delivered 15,000 comment cards and petitions to NJDEP offices in opposition to the proposed Exxon Settlement.

 

“Under Governor Chris Christie, there have been far too many corporate giveaways that have hurt our state’s people and decimated our priorities. But the Exxon deal is one of the worse. It denigrates our health and our children’s health, and sends a message to polluters that all they have to do to get away with dumping is write a large check to the Republican Governor’s Association. The Governor’s job is to look out for our people and our priorities – not his own campaign coffers or ExxonMobil’s profit margins,” said Dena Mottola Jaborska, Associate Director of New Jersey Citizen Action.

 

Now NJDEP is proposing to accept $225 million as a settlement for 100 years of pollution at these sites.  Additionally, instead of applying to only 2 Exxon refinery sites in Linden and Bayonne, the proposed settlement would release Exxon from liability on an additional 16 industrial sites and over 800 gas stations.

 

“There is nothing de minimis about the toxic legacy of Exxon’s oil facilities. The Christie Administration’s disregard of a generation of pollution is a slap in the face to New Jersey,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “There was a way to make the initial Exxon settlement worse – and the Christie Administration found it by grandfathering in 16 more Exxon oil facilities and 800 gas stations that have created a generation of pollution and public health risks. Exxon doesn’t deserve to be left off the hook.”

 

“Communities surrounding contaminated Exxon sites deserve the relief of a settlement that will cover the entire cost of cleaning up and restoring over 1500 acres of polluted wetlands, streams, and other lost public resources determined in the original lawsuit. These communities have suffered from Exxon’s irresponsible spills and discharges for far too long.  We urge Judge Hogan to revoke this handout and seek justice for New Jerseyans instead of favoring Big Oil,” said Debbie Mans, Baykeeper & Executive Director, NY/NJ Baykeeper

 

The recovery of NRD is separate for the clean-up or remediation of the site, which ExxonMobil is responsible for under current state law regardless of the outcome of this litigation.  NRD is to restore natural resources and compensate the public for their loss.  The State’s own experts testified that ExxonMobil had destroyed hundreds of acres of natural resources over decades.  The $8.9 billion estimate included removal of oil and chemical pollution in order to properly restore the wetlands, waterways and habitat that existed on these sites before ExxonMobil’s pollution.  The $225 million in the proposed settlement, will not come close to covering the costs associated with restoring and replacing these lost resource. It is possible that ExxonMobil will simply cap the site with another layer of fill, rather than complete a comprehensive cleanup.  That would mean that the sites would still be contaminated with potential of oil leaking into the groundwater and adjacent surface waters.

 

“The public has been loud and clear in rejecting the Christie Administration’s proposed sweetheart deal for Exxon, dirty deal for the rest of us. The state holds our natural resources in public trust yet this settlement reflects Exxon’s interests over New Jersey’s. Legislators, environmental, consumer, housing and labor groups are better representing the public. Exxon needs to pay more of its fair share and the proceeds need to be constitutionally dedicated to restore our natural resources and to benefit the affected local community,” said Dave Pringle, NJ Campaign Director, Clean Water Action.

 

The Anti-Exxon Settlement Day of Action offered an opportunity for outraged citizens to call on the NJDEP to reject the deal, which would allow Exxon to pay pennies on the dollar for natural resource damages after decades of pollution.  The settlement is a result of litigation started in 2004 under the McGreevy Administration to compensate the State for the destruction of 1500 acres of wetlands, waterways, and other natural areas as a result of pollution from Exxon refineries in Linden and Bayonne.  During the trial, New Jersey’s own experts estimated that the natural resource damages totaled $8.9 billion.

 

Groups are calling for the passage of SCR163 (Smith)/ ACR230 (McKeon) to have it placed on the ballot this fall.  The measure would constitutionally dedicate monies received by the state in Natural Resource Damage litigation to environmental purposes.  Environmental groups are pushing for the dedication to ensure the money from these lawsuits go to remediating and restoring the site, local ecosystem, and local community.

 

“This dirty back-room deal is poised to let a major corporation off the hook for decades of pollution and environmental damages.  Governor Christie has refused to put a stop to this billion dollar corporate giveaway, despite the growing chorus of people calling on him to dump this dirty deal.  We are hopeful that the judge will look at this settlement and hold ExxonMobil responsible for the full damages they have caused NJ residents,” said Jim Walsh, NJ Director Food & Water Watch. “I am not hopeful that Governor Christie will clean up his act.”

 

In the current budget and next year’s proposed budget there is language that would allow environment settlement money over $50 million to be diverted to the General Fund.  In the current budget, $140 million was taken from the Passaic River clean up litigation. Under this language, the administration 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.

 

The lobby day focuses on legislation to prevent future raids of Natural Resource Damage litigation monies. Additional measures the legislature can take include allowing collection of Natural Resource Damages through DEP programs rather than court action. The DEP has a program in place that would have automatically accessed damages to the environment and a corresponding penalty, instead of going to court. Requiring the DEP to make calculation of NRD claims is also a clear and transparent way to determine how much polluters actually owe the people of New Jersey for dumping toxic chemicals into our environment.

 

“Governor Christie’s shady backroom deal with Exxon would give the world class polluter an $8 billion windfall while forcing working families to pick up the tab. Governor Christie hatched this settlement in secret for good reason. Now that the truth is out working families around the state are outraged, and they are calling on him by the thousands to stop giving corporations like Exxon a free ride and start making them pay their fair share,” said Analilia Mejia, Executive Director of NJ Working Families.

 

At the rally, activists discussed what this settlement means for the people of New Jersey and called on the NJDEP to reject the outrageous settlement. The event was held Thursday, June 4, 2015 at the Statehouse steps. After the rally, the group walked over to the NJDEP to drop off 15,000 comment cards.

 

The comment period ends 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

NJDEP

Attn: Exxon Mobil Bayway Comments

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

Trenton, N.J. 08625-0420

 

 

 

Jamie Zaccaria

Administrative Assistant

New Jersey Sierra Club