NJ Court to Hear Green Groups' Case for Intervening in Exxon Pollution Settlement

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Last month, NRDC, Clean Water Action, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Environment New Jersey, NJ Audubon, NY/NJ Baykeeper, and Sierra Club New Jersey filed papers to intervene in litigation brought by New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection against ExxonMobil Corporation to recover damages due for decades of hazardous soil and water contamination at two massive former Exxon refineries in northern New Jersey. We are asking the judge to allow us to become parties to the case--and to reject the proposed settlement for 2.5 percent of the original price tag.

Yesterday, Exxon and New Jersey opposed that motion to intervene.

Our intervention in the case remains critical to ensuring a voice for the people of New Jersey and New York who stand to benefit from a cleanup--and making clear that this settlement is a bad deal for New Jersey citizens and a steal for the multi-billion-dollar oil giant. Our groups have more than one hundred thousand members in New Jersey. They--along all of the people living in northern New Jersey whose interests our groups want to represent--deserve a seat at the table.

This Friday, July 10, we will argue just that in a court hearing on our motion to intervene--asking the court to grant our intervention and allow us to become parties to the case.

The proposed settlement is a gross abdication of New Jersey's duty to manage its resources and finances for the public benefit. It is far too low to restore and replace the region's valuable ecosystems and make the public whole for the loss of their use. Our groups, along with more than 20,000 individual commenters, submitted comments to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection asking them to reject the settlement. And now we are asking the court to do the same.

As you may remember, in 2004 New Jersey sued Exxon to hold the company responsible for "staggering and unprecedented" environmental damage at two northern New Jersey ExxonMobil oil refining and petrochemical sites - one at Bayway, located in Linden, and another in Bayonne. At trial last year against Exxon, New Jersey noted that approximately 1,800 acres of wetlands, forests, marshes, meadows, and waters has been buried under, or otherwise adversely affected by, decades of spills and leaks at the two sites.

What were once vital ecosystems serving as habitats for a wide variety of wildlife--from flounder to terrapins and blue herons--are now wastelands as a result of more than a century of pollution. Instead of neighboring a rich natural area and natural flood buffer zone, the nearly 1 million people who live in adjacent zip codes now live next to dumps contaminated with millions of gallons of oil and more than 600 chemicals, including some linked to cancer and other serious health problems.

Throughout and following a long trial last year, New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection argued that ExxonMobil owed the state $8.9 billion in damages to restore and replace the damaged natural resources--and make New Jersey residents whole for their loss. That figure was based on calculations from extensive state-commissioned expert studies. In April of this year, however, the parties proposed settling for just $225 million, with no explanation for the drastic reduction. To make matters worse, the proposed settlement wraps in and releases Exxon from paying natural resource damages at all of its current and former gas stations (more than 800 total, according to news estimates) and sixteen other sites across New Jersey.

The proposed settlement is a giveaway to this big polluter, at the expense of the people of New Jersey. Exxon should be held accountable for its dirty legacy, and restore the area to its former glory, once and for all.

About the Authors

Margaret Brown

Senior Attorney, NY Regional, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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