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.