Exxon & Gov. Christie, You’ve Been Served: Enviros File Legal Action To Stop Historic Environmental Sell-Out

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Environment New Jersey Research & Policy Center

Trenton – Seven environmental groups, representing hundreds of thousands of citizen members, filed a motion this morning to intervene in litigation brought by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection against ExxonMobil Corporation. The filing focused on damages due for generations of toxic pollution at the Bayonne and Linden refineries, 16 other Exxon sites around the state and more than 800 gas stations for soil and water contamination across New Jersey, and urged the court to reject the proposed settlement.

The Columbia Environmental Law Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed the motion this morning in New Jersey State Superior Court in Union County on behalf of Clean Water Action, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Environment New Jersey, New Jersey Audubon, New Jersey Sierra Club, NRDC, and the NY/NJ Baykeeper. The core of the group’s argument is the $225 million state proposed settlement in April will not allow the state to restore Exxon’s environmental damage, estimated to be as high as $8.9 billion for the two Exxon refineries in Linden and Bayonne.

 “The Christie Administration’s disregard of a generation of pollution at hundreds of Exxon facilities across the state is a slap in the face to New Jersey,” said Doug O’Malley, Director of Environment New Jersey. “Exxon has created a legacy of pollution and public health risks in our state, and Gov. Christie should not let them off the hook.”

In 2008, the courts found more than 1,800 acres of forests, wetlands, marshes, meadows, and waters were polluted by decades of spills and leaks at two ExxonMobil oil refineries and petrochemical operations in Linden and Bayonne. In Bayonne alone, more than 7 million gallons of oil are sitting on top of groundwater. The damage at the 16 other Exxon sites around the state remains huge. The settlement includes the Paulsboro sites, Flemington and Pennington oil depots, Edison Research Lab, the Linden oil depot and Teterboro Airport depot and many other contaminated sites around New Jersey. 

“This is not a settlement, it is a sellout of the taxpayers and the environment.  We are going to court to do the job that DEP should do, which is to reject this settlement and make Exxon pay their fair share.  This dirty deal should not stand.  Not only does it affect Linden and Bayonne, but communities from one end of New Jersey to the other. The DEP never gave the judge or the public any information on the 16 other sites or the hundreds of gas stations, yet the Christie Administration included them in the settlement . This makes this dirty deal even dirtier and the corporate subsidy even bigger. Exxon must be held liable and must pay for the damages they caused to these communities and the environment.  We are moving to intervene in this case to represent the people since DEP is more concerned about Exxon.  We will go into court to uphold the public trust doctrine and make sure polluters pay for the damages to natural resources.  We are here to put the trust back into the public trust doctrine and ensure those people in those communities get the money they are entitled to,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the NJ Sierra Club. 

The proposed settlement was expanded to include sites that were not in the original lawsuit, including 16 Exxon oil facilities around the state and more than 800 gas stations. 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.  Exxon has been under Administrative Consent Order for the Bayway refinery since 1991 to clean-up, but little progress has been made.

“We’re asking to be heard because this is a bad deal for New Jersey taxpayers, public health and the environment,” said David Pringle, NJ Campaign Director, Clean Water Action. “When you add up all the details in the proposed settlement, it’s a sweetheart deal for Exxon—possibly less than half of one tenth of one cent on the dollar for an actual restoration. It is a raw deal for the people of New Jersey. The public, the NJ Legislature, and our members have spoken up resoundingly against the settlement and for polluter pays. Governor Christie isn’t representing the public interest, and this isn’t a fair deal.”

The damage at the additional 16 other Exxon sites is extensive. Most egregious is the Paulsboro Oil Terminal site, along 34 acres next to the Delaware River in South Jersey.  In 1985, over 135,000 gallons leaked into the site.  Nine major additional spills were reported after the 1985 spill.  A 2009 report by the DEP found 118 million gallons of groundwater were contaminated on the site and the plume was expected to end up contaminating over 429 million gallons of groundwater across 63 acres.  Chemicals found in the groundwater include benzene, toluene, BTEX, and many other volatile organic compounds.

“Exxon needs to be held fully accountable for their crimes against the environment and our communities, that includes being held fully and directly accountable for the damage they have inflicted on the Delaware River and all of the communities that depend upon our River for healthy and quality lives. We are moving to intervene in this action, to ensure that Exxon and all those who would damage our natural resources understand that they cannot and will not be let off lightly for harming present and future generations and to ensure that Exxon is held fully accountable,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper and leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

In the initial court case, the state argued that Exxon was responsible for paying the $8.9 billion needed to remove all the oil and chemicals from the soil and groundwater at the sites and then restore the wetlands and other vital ecosystems.  Under the proposed Christie Administration settlement, the state will not recover anywhere near the funds needed to restore these incredibly damaged sites to their original condition—and make New Jersey residents whole for the loss of these important natural resources. Exxon does not have to clean-up sites to their original state.

The proposed settlement would release Exxon from liability and damages at all of the included major 18 sites and the more than 800 gas stations around the state. There is no requirement that any of the natural resource damage funding would be directed to Bayonne or Linden. Of the proposed $225 million, $40 million would go toward lawyers’ fees. And under budget language, only $50 million would be directed for environmental clean-ups. The rest of the settlement would be siphoned into the General Fund, which has led the New Jersey Legislature to propose a constitutional amendment (SCR163/ACR230) for all environmental settlements to be dedicated to environmental restoration projects.