State Senate president calls NJ’s Exxon settlement ‘seriously wrong’
New Jersey sought $8.9 billion in its decade-long land contamination lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corp but has settled for $225 million. In an exclusive interview with Townsquare Media, State Sen. President Steve Sweeney said he is stunned by the settlement and is seeking answers.
A motion will be filed to intervene in the case, Sweeney said. In the meantime, Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto (D-Secaucus) and Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman John McKeon (D-Madison) said a hearing on the case will be held March 19.
Shortly after Sweeney's comments were reported here Thursday, Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced the $225 million settlement, saying the sum is separate from Exxon Mobil’s obligation to clean up the sites at its own expense.
Any settlement in the case must still be approved by a judge.
"It's absurd," Sweeney said earlier. "What they settled for was three cents on the dollar and it was the state that asked the judge to hold up so that they could make a settlement," Sweeney said. "What was the state thinking? That the judge was going to rule one cent on the dollar, two cents on the dollar? Something is really seriously wrong."
McKeon, in an emailed statement slamming the reported settlement as "appalling and disturbing," also said: "The Christie administration appears more interested in rewarding Exxon Mobil for whatever reason than protecting taxpayers and our environment."
Officials from the State Attorney General's Office, among others will be invited to testify March 19, McKeon said.
Asked Wednesday what explanation he's gotten from the Christie Administration, Sweeney (D-West Deptford) replied with a one-word answer: "Crickets."
A Christie administration official who asked not to be identified told Townsquare Media New Jersey that a $250 million penalty would be among the largest ever settled or ruled in state history.
"Any such settlement in a case like this deals with the penalty associated with the environmental damage," the official said. "It is different from the clean-up and remediation responsibility and costs, which still falls on Exxon and is in addition to the legal settlement. Think of it like a fine on top of the cost of the clean up."
The reported settlement was also sharply criticized by New Jersey's former environmental control commissioner Bradley M. Campbell, who authorized the suit against Exxon in 2004. Campbell, in an op-ed piece published in The New York Times Thursday, wrote: "While Mr. Christie’s eye has been on the presidency, his staff has traded away an opportunity to recover billions of dollars to restore natural resources damaged or destroyed by Exxon."