Exxon Settlement Opponents Rally at Governor’s Town Hall

Concerned citizens from across the state joined together at Governor Chris Christie’s town hall meeting yesterday to oppose his administration’s proposed settlement agreement with Exxon Mobil.

Outraged residents called on the Governor to reject the deal, which would allow the corporation to pay pennies on the dollar for natural resource damages after decades of pollution.

The state originally requested $8.9 billion, but is now proposing to accept $225 million.  Additionally, instead of applying to only two Exxon refinery sites in Linden and Bayonne, the proposed settlement would release Exxon from liability on an additional 16 industrial sites and over 800 gas stations that contaminated groundwater around the state.

The deal includes the Teterboro Airport Fuel Farm, practically across the street from the site of the Governor’s Town Hall meeting.  Activists at the event urged fellow concerned citizens to submit comments opposing the settlement to the DEP now through June 5th.

“We are here today at the Governor’s Town Hall Meeting so he can hear firsthand how not only troubled, but outraged people are by the proposed Exxon settlement.  We are practically across the street from the Teterboro Airport, one of the sellout sites included in the settlement.  The Christie Administration calls this the largest settlement in history, but it’s really the largest sellout in state history. Instead of going after the almost $9 billion dollars New Jersey is entitled to, the Christie administration settled for 3 cents on the dollar. This settlement destroys the environment while ripping off the tax payers of New Jersey and must be rejected,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

The litigation started in 2004 under the McGreevy administration to compensate the state for the destruction of 1500 acres of wetlands, marshes, and other natural areas as a result of pollution from Exxon refineries in Linden and Bayonne.  At the time the natural resource damages were estimated by New Jersey to total $8.9 billion.

“Even a 5 year old knows the adage: ‘if you make the mess, you clean it up or pay the consequences’. I’m not sure what’s worse … Governor Christie siding with the deep pockets of Exxon Mobil, a massive polluter found guilty of jeopardizing the health of New Jerseyans and damaging our environment, or that Christie and Exxon think they can get away with it,” said Dave Pringle, campaign director, NJ Clean Water Action.  “It’s not surprising his latest PR campaign stop is just 1000 feet from one of the Exxon-Christie no cleanup sites.”

The settlement, as proposed, would cover an additional 16 industrial sites and over 800 privately-owned gas stations.  The settlement includes Paulsboro Refinery, Flemington and Pennington oil depots, Edison Research Lab, Linden oil depot and many other contaminated sites around New Jersey.  The Paulsboro Refinery is a 950 acre site that has contaminated wetlands and tidal marshes and clean up there alone could cost billions.

“Governor Christie’s egregious sell-out to Exxon Mobil is a slap in the face to New Jersey residents, all of whom are faced with the consequences of fossil fuel pollution in one way or another,” said Matt Smith, a state organizer with Food & Water Watch. “The fact that this giveaway to one of the world’s richest corporations is a blatant attempt to garner favor for the governor’s future political ambitions is all the more shameful.”

In 1991, Exxon entered into an Administrative Consent Order with the NJDEP to clean up the Bayway refinery site.  Environmental groups are troubled by the little progress that has been made in the past almost 25 years and fear the settlement will further erode cleanup efforts on the site.  The original court case called on Exxon to fully restore the site and remove contaminates, however this settlement agreement would allow the company to simply cap the site, leaving the pollution in place.

“The Exxon settlement is a scandal because it lets Exxon off the hook for a legacy of pollution in Linden,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “But this settlement is worse than just the environmental devastation in Linden. The settlement affects every corner of New Jersey because Gov. Christie greenlighted get-out-of-jail free cards for Exxon. From Teterboro to Paulsboro to gas stations across the state, this settlement is a massive giveaway by Gov. Christie.”

Money paid to the state in the settlement would be used to pay for site restoration however chunks of the money could be diverted for other purposes.  Last week officials at the DEP confirmed that in the settlement NJDEP agreed to cover their own legal costs, estimated at $50 million, despite the fact the court has found Exxon liable for the pollution.  Additionally Governor Christie could transfer the money to the General Fund and use it to cover other state expenses, not to clean up the polluted sites.  In the current budget and the proposed FY2016 budget there is language that would allow environment settlement money over $50 million to be diverted to the general fund.  $140 million from the Passaic River cleanup litigation was diverted to the general fund in the current budget, and the language would allow the Governor to take up to $175 million from the Exxon money.

“The damages suffered by the communities and the environment subjected to decades of pollution by Exxon can never be fully recovered but reparations should at least attempt to be equitable. The fact is many of those who have suffered negative health effects from Exxon’s environmental degradation in the regions in which it operated and, in some instances, still operates are people who are already bearing a disproportionate burden of the harms of fossil fuel processing.  This giveaway by the Governor to Exxon is shameful because it isn’t enough to restore quality to damaged areas but it is also unjust for those communities, like Paulsboro, who have lived unfairly in harm’s way for so long,” said Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

The DEP will be accepting public comment on the settlement through June 5, 2015. Written comments can be submitted electronically to exxonmobilbaywaysettlement@dep.nj.gov, with the subject “Exxon Mobil Bayway Settlement” or in hard copy to:

Office of Record Access
NJDEP
Attn: Exxon Mobil Bayway Comments
P.O. Box 420 Mail Code 401-06Q
Trenton, N.J. 08625-0420 

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