Governor Goes on Defensive About Much-Criticized Exxon Mobil Settlement

Christie claims that administration’s $225M deal is ‘a really good settlement,’ neglects to mention billions state originally sought

Gov. Chris Christie yesterday fired back at critics, some of whom have accused the administration of caving in to a sweetheart settlement that allows Exxon Mobil Corp. to pay only $225 million to deal with pollution problems at three refineries and other sites the company once operated.

In a town hall in Somerville, the governor, in his first public comments on the issue, called the proposed deal “a really good settlement.’’ He also said the proposal, which still must be approved by the courts, ensures that Exxon will have to clean up pollution problems at its sites, including hundreds of service stations that may have contaminated groundwater leaking from underground storage tanks.

What he failed to mention is that the $225 million for so-called natural resources damages to thousands of acres at the refineries from pollution over many decades is far less than what the state originally sought in the suit against the company.

A report prepared by a consultant for the state Department of Environmental Protection said the cost of restoring those wetlands and marshes polluted by petroleum products could range as high as $6.4 billion.

Environmental groups also said the cleanup plans proposed by Exxon largely involve capping the site and leaving the contaminated material in place, a remedy that would greatly reduce cleanup costs.

Christie administration officials called the natural-resources damage settlement the largest environmental payout by a single corporation in the state’s history.