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A judge in New Jersey is considering whether to allow environmentalists and a state legislator to take part in deciding how much Exxon Mobil Corp. should pay the state in a pollution case that’s been brewing for more than a decade.
On Feb. 27, Superior Court Judge Michael Hogan was preparing to rule on how much the oil giant ought to pay for environmental repair and other damages linked to its oil refining and other activities in the northern New Jersey. But Exxon and the administration of Gov. Chris Christie abruptly announced that they had settled on $225 million, not the $8.9 billion the state had been fighting for.
At the time, John Hoffman, the state’s acting attorney general, and Bob Martin, its environmental commissioner, issued a joint statement calling the agreement “the single largest environmental settlement with a corporate defendant in New Jersey history.”
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“[T]his administration aggressively pushed the case to trial [and] is the result of long-fought settlement negotiations that predated and postdated the trial,” they said.
On July 10, a prominent Democratic state legislator, Sen. Raymond Lesniak of Union County, joined environmental groups in Hogan’s courtroom in Mount Holly, where they contended that the amount in the settlement is less than 3 percent of the amount the state has been demanding for 11 years and, as a result, the deal isn’t in the best interest of the state’s residents.
Among the environmental groups joining Lesniak in court were the New Jersey Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Delaware Riverkeeper, NY/NJ Baykeeper, Environment New Jersey, New Jersey Audubon, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Law Clinic at Columbia Law School.
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The National Resources Defense Council told the hearing that the settlement reached by Exxon and Christie’s administration doesn’t include funds needed to replace resources lost to the company’s pollution, and in fact that none of the money in the settlement is specifically earmarked for restoration.
Lesniak agreed, saying in summary, “I contend that the public is not being represented by the state of New Jersey.”
Representatives of Exxon and the Christie administration responded that neither Lesniak nor the environmental groups have legal standing to challenge the settlement. Hogan said he would issue a written decision on the standing of the petitioners within the next 10 days and on the settlement itself by the end of the month.
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Hogan’s July 10 hearing came after a 60-day period in which the individuals and advocacy groups could offer public comments on the settlement. During that time, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection said it received about 16,000 comments as well as petitions containing about 70,000 names.
Among those submitting comments were State Senate President Stephen Sweeny of Gloucester County and Bill de Blasio, the mayor of neighboring New York City.
By Andy Tully Of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com