Tag Archive: Judge Michael Hogan

News Roundup & Open Thread for Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Exxon Mobil and the administration vs. NJ’s environment

  • Progressives had hoped for a crackdown against the polluter Exxon, instead they received a sellout against New Jerseyans and their environment. The judge yesterday ruled the consent agreement of only $225 million “was fair and reasonable.” Of the $225 million, $50 million will go to legal costs, $50 million to environmental cleanup and $125 million to the state’s General Fund.

  • Sen. Raymond Lesniak said he believes Superior Court Judge Michael Hogan’s concerns could give him an opportunity to appeal the judgment.

  • Margaret Brown, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, called it  a “slap on the wrist for Exxon that will do little to undo the damage.” For comments from other environmentalists go here.

    NJ sports betting gets another thumbs down. A federal appellate panel once again upheld a federal ban on New Jersey’s bid to allow sports betting at the state’s racetracks and Atlantic City’s casino.

    DEAL OR NO DEAL?

  • Christie and Rabbi/politician Shmuley Boteach urge opposition to the Iran deal. Christie joined Jewish groups at Rutgers University to criticize the proposal and pressure U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and the NJ congressional delegation to oppose the deal. Christie said, “It’s not about politics.” The Star-Ledger reports, “Both Boteach and Sen. Menendez have received financial support from casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson who opposes the Iran deal.”

  • No War in Iran Action. Join move-on.org protestors today at Noon in front of Rep. Scott Garrett’s office at 266 Harristown Road, Glen Rock, NJ 07452.

    CHRISTIEOLOGY

  • Christie in South Carolina: Monmouth University poll reports that the governor as a first choice is 12th and as a second choice is 11th. His favorabily rating is negative 42% to 34%.

  • Moran: Christie on Bridgegate: “Telling it like it isn’t, again.” “Christie claimed that his administration was not under investigation at the time he deleted a series of text messages regarding the scandal.”

  • Gun proposals reflect Christie’s rightward shift on guns.

    Newark’s St. Michael’s Medical Center saga continues. The bankrupt St. Michael’s and the community want it to stay open, Barnabas Health (the largest NJ hospital chain) wants to purchase and then close it to reduce competition, Prime (out-of-state and for-profit) wants to buy it, invest capital and keep it open, and a state-funded consultant recommended it be converted into same-day treatment centers. The bankruptcy judge has ordered bids be submitted by November 3. Ultimately, as health lawyer John Jacobi points out, Saint Michael’s future rests in the state’s hands with the Health’s Commissioner’s “mandate” to decide “what is best for the people of Newark.”

    After union’s encouragement for Guv campaign, Sweeney says, issues like New Jersey’s flagging Transportation Trust Fund, higher education development and economic initiatives would be essential to his potential gubernatorial run.”

  • Proposed Exxon Mobil settlement update

    Where we are today in terms of the Department of Environmental Protection and ExxonMobil settlement should come as no surprise. Gov. Christie in 2010 appointed Bob Martin as the DEP Commissioner. Martin’s background was consulting with large utility and energy companies in the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Europe. He served on Christie’s transition team as chair of the energy and utilities group. Gov. Christie in his infinite wisdom felt it made perfect sense to appoint an energy expert as his environmental commissioner. Even Martin was surprised after his appointment as he said he had expect to land an energy post.

    Burlington County Superior Court Judge Michael Hogan originally scheduled oral arguments for today, but rescheduled them for Thursday, July 30. Environmental groups which oppose the settlement had to petition the court and submit their amici briefs by yesterday. The responses from NJ DEP and Exxon, which are now in cahoots with each other, are due Friday, July 24.

    The Sierra Club announced yesterday it has “petitioned to file an amicus brief along with other environmental groups. We will show that the environment is being shortchanged and that the DEP does not represent the people of New Jersey. We want to be a friend to the court because the DEP has proven to only be a friend to Exxon,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

    So Gov. Christie early on signaled that energy company concerns trump environmental concerns. Exxon in particular reciprocated with donations that greased the settlement. Christie’s recent Chief Legal Counsel Chris Porrino and Bob Martin achieved a deal which Christie considers to be “historic” and “exemplary,” but which others view as the greatest boondoggle since the ARC tunnel. We have yet to find out what Judge Hogan, called out of retirement to handle the case, will rule.    

    Judge Hogan rules in favor of the NJ DEP (“Department of Exxon Protection”)

    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.  

    The Christie EXXON Mobil Boondoggle

    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.