This coming week Burlington County Judge Michael Hogan will decide whether seven environmental groups and State Sen. Ray Lesniak can argue in court against the proposed pollution settlement between the Christie administration and EXXON Mobil. The group told the judge in oral arguments on Friday the state had abandoned the public interest by agreeing with EXXON Mobil to a settlement of only $225 million. “There’s no one in this case representing the legal interests of the people of New Jersey,” explained Sen. Lesniak on Friday.
In fact it’s all a boondoggle – a wasteful effort that only gives the appearance of having value. In 2006 Stratus Consulting prepared a report for the NJ Department of Environmental Protection on the natural resource damages at the Exxon Mobil Bayway and Bayonne sites. Its conclusion was “The cost of the on-site restoration is $2.5 billion. Additional off-site replacement is necessary to compensate for the decades of harm at the two facilities. The total cost of the plan for on- and off-site restoration is $8.9 billion.” Adding insult to injury the proposed settlement of $225 million was expanded to include EXXON Mobil gas stations and 16 other terminals, plants, research facilities and an airport.
The benefit for the administration with a structurally unbalanced budget is an immediate infusion of $225 million into the state coffers. In 2014 through a little known provision Christie gained authority to divert money obtained from pollution clean-up programs into the state’s general fund which suggests that after paying legal fees and diversion of the monies, little will be left for remediation. The detriment for the state and its residents is huge.
It’s a boondoggle for another key reason, and a higher settlement is essential.
Anyone who has been involved in remediation of land following an oil spill knows the costs of due diligence, legal and remediation can be staggering. What little is left in the settlement might not be even enough for remediation of the many gas stations and 16 larger sites, not to speak of the amount necessary for the extensive Bayonne and Bayside areas.
Gov. Christie says the the settlement is a good deal. Were he to discover substantial oil spills or other similar contaminants had occured many years ago on his property and were to learn the costs he would have to bare before selling, he would not be making such an outrageous statement.
It’s also a boondoggle as it smacks of political patronage tied to donations and lobbying. David Sirota of IBT points out several possible reasons for this low settlement: “Exxon Mobil has donated more than $1.9 million to the Republican Governors Association which financed Christie’s travels last year. EXXON Mobil’s law firm in the NJ case donated $30,000. Christie’s deputy chief of staff in 2014 left the governor’s office for a job with Exxon’s lobbying firm in Trenton. His first attorney general worked for EXXON for seven years.”
This particular boondoggle must not stand. It’s the largest since Christie cancelled ARC, diverted Port Authority monies to the transportation fund, and had to spend more money to close out the work already done. If the judge rules against Sen. Lesniak and the environmental groups, they can still file amicus briefs in the case. However, they want to do more, to actually intervene and argue on behalf of the legitimate interests of New Jerseyans. Let’s hope the judge agrees with them and that his final decision provides a fair settlement.