Environmentalists Head Back to Court to Be Heard in ExxonMobil Case

Tom Johnson | July 29, 2015 | Energy & Environment
Five ‘green’ groups ask appellate panel to let them intervene in controversial legal action, stay decision until appeal is decided

exxon mobil
Critics of a $225 million pollution settlement between the Christie administration and ExxonMobil are asking a state appeals court to allow them to intervene in the case.

In filings yesterday, five environmental groups asked an appellate panel to allow them to participate in the case before a lower court rules and to stay any agreement on the tentative deal until their appeal is decided.

The appeal, the latest twist in litigation in a lawsuit that is a decade old, may prevent a Superior Court judge from approving the much-disputed settlement at a hearing in Burlington County tomorrow.

The proposed deal involves efforts to restore areas damaged by pollution, primarily at refineries once operated by ExxonMobil in Linden and Bayonne. The tentative settlement also covers a refinery in Paulsboro, 16 other sites operated by the company and hundreds of retail gas stations.

In a settlement made public earlier this year, the state Department of Environmental Protection agreed to resolve the case with ExxonMobil paying $225 million for problems at the site — far less than the $8.9 billion originally sought by the agency in earlier court filings.

[related]The proposed deal is viewed as a sellout by opponents, who argue it is letting the company off the hook rather than restoring more than a thousand acres of wetlands, marshes, and waterways damaged by pollution at the refineries.

Once the deal was made public, the environmentalists and Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) sought to intervene in the case, but were denied by Superior Court Judge Michael Hogan, who is presiding in the lawsuit.

“Each time you look the deal gets worse and worse,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This is the biggest corporate tax-subsidy in state history.’’

In announcing the appeal, the conservationists called the proposed settlement a bad deal for taxpayers and the environment. The groups filing the appeal include the New Jersey Sierra Club, New Jersey Clean Water Action, Environment New Jersey, and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. The Natural Resources Defense Council filed a separate appeal to allow it to intervene in the case.

“The public is now not represented in the largest pollution case in New Jersey’s history, where the Christie administration has caved to Exxon at the expense of the public,’’ said Dave Pringle, campaign director of New Jersey Clean Water Action.

The Christie administration has defended the proposal as the single largest settlement New Jersey has obtained as a result of a natural-resources damage lawsuit, claiming that it does not absolve the company from cleaning up contamination at the sites.

“We’re fighting to intervene in this case because Exxon created a toxic legacy and the Christie administration should not be allowed to let them off the hook,’’ added Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.