The New Jersey Assembly on Thursday passed a resolution rejecting the state’s $225 million settlement with Exxon Mobile Corp., over refinery pollution.
The Assembly voted 45-16-9 to give approval to a resolution by Assemblyman John McKeon, D- Essex/Morris, denouncing Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s April proposal to resolve claims over hazardous discharges from Exxon refinery sites in Linden and Bayonne that impacted 1,500 acres of wetlands.
“About $50 million is going to go to attorney fees, but $175 million won’t even go to try to restore the ecological treasures that were destroyed,” McKeon said while testifying at a quorum meeting.
The proposed agreement, first publicly announced in March, would resolve the oil giant’s liability for alleged natural resource damages at refinery sites, with the exception of surface water claims. It also covers 16 other Exxon sites, including terminals and small airports, as well as Exxon retail gas stations in the state that had been cited in other natural resource damages claims.
The agreement is currently undergoing a 60-day public comment period.
McKeon’s resolution, AR-242, opposes the settlement and demands that the governor “obtain the maximum compensation possible for the devastating environmental damage incurred by Exxon.”
McKeon, citing decades of contamination, accuses Exxon of improperly disposing of “millions of gallons of crude oil and refined products, seven to 17 feet thick in some cases, and containing hazardous substances such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, chromium and arsenic” at Linden and Bayonne facilities since the 19th century.
The resolution was borne of hearings, consultations with environmental scientists and other experts and perusal of 56 days of trial transcripts, McKeon said.
“We used to think of what was destroyed there, the wetlands, as things that just supported biology. But we now know how important they are as a barrier against storm surges after Superstorm Sandy,” he said, calling the state’s de facto forfeit of the surface water claims “unacceptable.”
The Christie administration, according to McKeon’s resolution, hasn’t justified settling the case for approximately 3 percent of the $8.9 billion calculated by the Department of Environmental Protection as the value of the natural resource damages, and offered “no verifiable rationale” for including the 16 Exxon sites and the approximately 1,700 retail service stations unrelated to the litigation in the settlement.
The $225 million figure doesn’t cover the cleanup, and though the area can be “cleaned on some level, it can never be restored,” McKeon told the Assembly.
The resolution also blasts Christie in its historical account of the state DEP’s efforts to address more than 4,000 potential natural resource damages claims since 2001. Since Christie took office in 2010, only one such claim has been made, the resolution said.
A Christie spokesman reached on Thursday said to refer to the governor’s previous statements on the issue. The governor said in a March town hall meeting that the settlement has been misrepresented to the public and that Exxon would have to pay whatever price was necessary to “fix everything that they polluted up to state standards.”
The resolution drew opposition from Assemblywoman Holly T. Schepisi, R-Bergen, who questioned the appropriateness of lawmakers’ interventions and warned that legislators weren’t “part and parcel” to all the nuances of the settlement.
“We have never once won a case similar to this. The fact is, this could go on for another 10 years. We could potentially see zero dollars at the end of it,” Schepisi said.
“The administration was trying to defend the indefensible, which is this dirty deal,” club President Jeff Tittel said in a statement released after the vote.
The Senate passed a similar resoluion in March.