It shocks the conscience.
The settlement proposed by the state of New Jersey for more than a century of pollution at two Exxon Mobil oil refineries “shocks the conscience,” said Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, in urging rejection of the state’s proposal.
Earlier this year Gov. Chris Christie’s administration proposed concluding a decade of litigation against Exxon Mobil with a $225 million settlement that would not only cover environmental damage done at the Bayway and Bayonne refineries, but also 16 other sites that were not part of the original case.
The settlement proposal came as a surprise because the oil giant had already been found liable for the damage, leaving determination of what the company would pay as the only issue to be decided.
The state’s lawyers had previously argued that damage to the sites was “staggering and unprecedented.” Studies commissioned by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection determined restoration and replacement for the damage would cost almost $9 billion.
“The settlement offered by the state makes no mention of how the proposed payment of $225 million would provide compensation for the restoration and/or replacement of, the lost value of, injury to or destruction of natural resources and natural resource services,” Dillingham argued in comments submitted to the DEP during the 60-day public comment period that concluded Friday (June 5, 2015).
About 8,800 comments were filed. Department spokesman Larry Hajna said the high number includes many form letters and emails. Hopes are the comments will be passed on to state Superior Court Judge Michael Hogan, who has the final say on whether the state’s proposed settlement is acceptable.
“There is no way that the comparatively paltry sum proposed to be paid could serve the public’s interest in restoring the damaged environment to a state consistent with the ecological restoration plan developed by the State during the active litigation,” Dillingham said.
Adding insult to injury, he added, is that “substantial attorney’s fees and State budgetary policy will divert the majority of the proposed settlement away from restoration.”
Gov. Christie’s office has said that only $50 million of the settlement would be used to address environmental issues, with the rest of the money going to balance the state budget. Twenty percent of the settlement would go to the outside attorneys hired by the state to pursue the case.
The state has failed to show how the settlement meets its legal requirement of being “fair, reasonable, adequate and in the public interest,” Dillingham said.
Furthermore, he said, the proposed settlement should be rejected by the judge because it:
• Gives Exxon relief for damage at the 16 other sites, which were not part of the original case.
• Fails to provide a logical basis or explanation for reducing the settlement.
• Creates substantial potential for future violations because of ithe “grossly inadequate settlement.”
"The public interest in this action lies with the restoration of damaged or destroyed natural resources at the Bayway and Bayonne sites,” Dillingham concluded.
Given that the Hudson-Raritan Estuary is home to 15 million people and a rich diversity of wildlife, he said, the public would have a "deep and abiding interest in the environmental recovery of the area even if it had not already invested billions of dollars in environmental clean ups, including cessation of water pollution, remediation of contaminated sites and ongoing industrial activities.
“The State of New Jersey, in pursuing its obligations under law should aim to achieve outcomes consistent with, and supportive of the public’s interest in the environmental recovery of this region."
The American Littoral Society (ALS, Littoral Society or Society) is a membership based coastal conservation organization headquartered in Highlands, New Jersey. Its mission is to promote the study and conservation of marine life and its habitats, to protect the coast from harm, and to empower others to do the same.
The Littoral Society commented because we have a long standing interest in the Hudson River estuary, and the resources affected by this proposed settlement between Exxon and the State of New Jersey. The Society has supported scientific and environmental assessments of the estuary and its resources, advocated for public policy in support of its restoration and protection, and supported community based efforts throughout the region.