In what is probably the largest boondoggle since the ARC tunnel, Burlington County Judge Michael Hogan denied the request of environmental groups and Sen. Ray Lesniak to intervene in the EXXON Mobil contamination lawsuit.
The judge ruled: “The court denies the motion as to the environmental groups because the DEP adequately represents their interests. The court denies the motion as to Senator Lesniak because he lacks an interest or, alternatively, assuming he has an interest, because the DEP adequately represents that interest. The court denies the motions because they are not timely and granting them would unduly delay proceedings and prejudice the original parties.”
To a layman the notion that the NJ Department of Environmental Protection represents the interests of the environmental groups is hard swallow. What started out as an $8.9 billion court case is now reduced to $225 million, which after deducting legal fees and diverting monies to the general fund represents a pitifully small sum to cover two refineries, 16 industrial sites and 800 to 1,700 privately-owned gas stations.
Jeff Tittel of Sierra Club said,
“Today the people lost but the fight will continue. We are very disappointed with this decision. Over 70,000 people have weighed in against the NJDEP ExxonMobil settlement. DEP’s opposition is shameful since they should be on the side of the environment. Our motion to intervene and future appeal will show that the DEP has misled the public. The DEP now stands for the Department of Exxon Protection.”
[Additional note from Rosi: I spoke to Sen. Lesniak a few minutes ago. He told me he’s optimistic that the judge ultimately will not approve the settlement. He points out that the public comment period generated vigorous opposition to the settlement (including those 70,000 howls of protest noted above) including the information he provided as an elected senator and one from one of the affected areas. Lesniak plans to file an amicus brief in order to have a legal role in the settlement process: “The administration and Exxon are working together as allies but the people need a voice in the case. The fight is far from over,” Lesniak promised. ]
Nonetheless the court story is not over. Oral arguments on the proposed settlement of $225 million will be held on July 21 after which the judge will issue his ruling on the settlement amount.