TRENTON — The state Department of Environmental Protection is fighting an attempt by environmental groups to throw out a $225 million pollution settlement between the state and Exxon.

In a court filing dated Thursday, the DEP urged the state Supreme Court to reject the efforts of groups including the New Jersey Sierra Club and others to intervene in the case. It also argued the court shouldn't hear arguments on former Democratic state Sen. Raymond Lesniak's bid to have the lower court's approval of the settlement reconsidered.

Lesniak and the environmental groups contend then-Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, settled in 2015 for "pennies on the dollar" over years of pollution by Exxon at two refinery sites. Earlier state estimates had put damages at $8.9 billion.

A trial judge ruled the $225 million settlement was reasonable, and an appeals court affirmed that ruling. Though declining to overturn the trial judge's ruling, the appeals court ruled last month that the environmental groups had standing to appeal.

The New Jersey Sierra Club and other groups had been hopeful new Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy's administration would take a different stance than Christie's.

The state is "supporting the biggest rip-off of taxpayers in state history," New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said in an email Friday.

"By opposing our certification, the State is saying that the people of New Jersey do not have standing to challenge settlements by governments on pollution cases with corporations," he added. "This sets a terrible precedent that undermines the right of people to challenge government decisions, especially bad ones."

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press

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