Court Rejects Green Groups’ Effort to Stop Bad-Deal Settlement Between ExxonMobil and Christie Administration Over Pollution
MOUNT HOLLY, N.J. (July 13, 2015) – A New Jersey court today rejected environmental groups’ motion to intervene in litigation brought by the State of New Jersey against ExxonMobil Corporation over damages due for decades of toxic soil and water contamination in the northern part of the state. The groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, were urging the court to reject a proposed settlement between the two parties for 2.5 percent of the original price tag.
The state initially argued that ExxonMobil owed the state $8.9 billion in damages, but proposed settling for $225 million.
A statement follows from Margaret Brown, attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council:
“The affected New Jersey communities deserve a voice in this fight. Governor Christie and his administration should not let this multibillion-dollar oil corporation off the hook for the damages it rightfully owes the people of this state—and can well afford to pay. ExxonMobil treated these places like hazardous waste dumps. This big polluter should be held accountable for its dirty legacy, and called on to restore natural resources it has destroyed and damaged to their former glory, once and for all.”
Exxon's corporate predecessors began operating at Bayonne in 1877, and at the Bayway Refinery in Linden in 1909.
Exxon filled wetlands to develop the sites, spilled petroleum products and other hazardous substances from its refineries and chemical plants onto the land and into the water there, and used natural areas as primitive waste dumps. In addition to heavy and pervasive contamination at the sites, the pollution migrated to the waters of the Upper New York Bay and the Arthur Kill, which separates Staten Island from mainland New Jersey.
The New Jersey state court held Exxon liable for the contamination. At a trial to fix the amount of money damages Exxon would have to pay, the state’s witnesses described once-healthy salt marshes smothered in contaminated fill and other wastes, unlined pits of mixed oily wastes more than 10 feet deep, and extensive chemical soil contamination. They described the Bayonne site as so saturated with oil that there is more than 15 feet of petroleum waste floating on top of the underlying groundwater in some places. In other places, petroleum has leached from the ground and hardened, creating an asphalt-like material on the surface.
In its final brief before proposing the settlement, the state described the scope of the environmental damage resulting from the discharges “as obvious as it is staggering and unprecedented in New Jersey.”