Stepping up criticism of a controversial settlement with Exxon Mobil to deal with pollution claims, environmentalists yesterday agued it would do little to restore groundwater and other natural resources damaged at sites the company once operated in Paulsboro in South Jersey.
The proposed settlement puts the giant oil company on the hook for $225 million –far less than the $8.9 billion the state originally sought in natural-resources damages from two refineries Exxon operated in Linden and Bayonne. The tentative settlement reached this past March with the Christie administration also now covers 16 other sites owned by Exxon Mobil, as well as hundreds of retail gas stations not subject to the original litigation.
The proposal has generated much opposition, including from lawmakers who have launched legislative hearings into the deal. The debate over the proposal also has spurred a proposed constitutional amendment (SCR-163) that would prevent money from such settlements being used to plug holes in state budgets, instead of restoring natural resources, such as wetlands.
Exxon Mobil is still under obligation to clean up pollution at the multiple sites under previous orders from the state Department of Environmental Protection, but the directives fail to address, for the most part, efforts to restore natural resources damaged by the pollution.
“For the people who live in South Jersey, this is the epicenter of a bad deal,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “It’s probably the biggest giveaway in corporate history.’’
“Exxon’s dirty deal with Christie just gets dirtier and dirtier the more you look into it. Settling for less than three cents on the dollar for two North Jersey refineries is bad enough, but waiving Exxon from liability at large sites like Paulsboro and hundreds of other smaller toxic sites is adding insult to injury,’’ said Dave Pringle campaign director of Clean Water Action. “By any measure, this is unacceptable,’’ he said.
Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, noted Exxon Mobil earned more in profits last year than any other company in the United States.
“It’s a shame,’’ she said, referring to the settlement. “It’s a double shame on New Jersey and the Christie administration.’’
The administration has defended the proposed settlement, calling it the single largest natural resources deal ever reached with a polluter in New Jersey. But much of the money will be diverted to pay a law firm hired by the state to litigate the case and to plug a potential gap in next year’s state budget.
Legislators — as well as environmental groups — also have vowed to go to court, if necessary, to block the proposed settlement.
According to the DEP, the damages to natural resources at the Paulsboro site amounted to $81 million. “Instead of recovering tens of millions of dollars for groundwater contamination, the damages will be only $1.1 million.’’ Tittel said.
Exxon once owned the Paulsboro oil terminal, a 34-acre tract located on the banks of the Delaware River. According to environmentalists, there have been a number of leaks and spills on the site, including one in which 135,000 gallons leaked into the site back in 1985.
NJ Spotlight, an independent online news service on issues critical to New Jersey, makes its in-depth reporting available to NewsWorks.