The Legislature will challenge in court the Christie administration’s reported proposed settlement of a pollution suit against Exxon Mobil Corp. for a fraction of the $8.9 billion it had sought for more than a decade.
The proposal, first reported by the New York Times, would allow Exxon to settle the case for $250 million instead of the billions of dollars the state originally wanted.
The proposed settlement, involving damages to wetlands, marshes and other natural resources, has drawn harsh criticism from environmentalists and others, raising questions as to whether the deal was struck to provide money to balance the upcoming state budget.
The Senate will go to court to stop the administration from settling the lawsuit, according to two top leaders of the body.
“When we learned the administration planned to accept the equivalent of three cents on the dollar for the extensive damage to the environment, we decided to intervene to stop them and to protect the state’s interests,’’ said Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester).
How successful the suit will be and how aggressive lawmakers will pursue it remains in question. The Christie administration previously diverted $140 million out of a $190 million settlement for restoration of dioxin problems in the Passaic River — a diversion not contested by the Legislature.
The original lawsuit was filed in the courts by the state Department of Environmental Protection in 2004, and litigated by successive administrations over that time. A judge in the case already ruled Exxon liable for the pollution caused by its two refineries it once owned in Linden and Bayonne, but had not yet decided on the damages.
“The state has a responsibility to protect our environmental resources and public’s health,” said Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Union). “Holding Exxon accountable and getting damage done for decades is part of that responsibility. I’m willing to go to court to force them to do the right thing.’’