ENVIRONMENT

Judge Hears Final Arguments of Proposed Exxon Settlement

By Brenda Flanagan
Correspondent

Lawyers clashed in final arguments over the proposed Exxon settlement — $225 million to restore natural resources at toxic refineries in Linden and Bayonne and 16 other contaminated sites, plus hundreds of gas stations across New Jersey. The state originally wanted $8.9 billion.

“That’s a 98 percent discount. We don’t think it’s been adequately justified on the record and that’s one of the reasons we want to explore some of these rationals that the department is giving for this settlement,” said attorney for environmental activists Edward Lloyd.

“That’s not how you settle cases. When you make a decision to settle a case the first thing you do is you give up aspiring for the highest possible number. That is the nature of settlement,” said NJDEP attorney Allan Kanner.

Acting Attorney General John Hoffman explained this proposal doubles Exxon’s original $100 million offer. He feared the state could lose a protracted lawsuit.

“When you look at the litigation risk in total, that that litigation risk justifies an assessment of a fair and reasonable settlement at $225 million,” Hoffman said.

Judge Michael Hogan, who sat through trial testimony, also read reams of mostly-negative public comment on the proposed settlement. He asked Hoffman if he’d read any.

“Having reviewed the comments I am as certain now as I was before the the comments came in that $225 million is a fair and reasonable settlement,” Hoffman asked.

Exxon’s attorney argued the Bayonne/Bayway refineries are gated, private sites with no public access. Restoration should be zero dollars he said, but they settled.

“We get resolution of the natural resource damages component. In this case so we end this 10 years of cslogging it out in the courts and we recognize that if we don’t settle this case this case could go on for another 10 years,” ExxonMobil attorney Ted Wells said.

The judge noted most of the $225 million would be diverted by the governor’s budget to general funds, not the environment.

“There’s an oddity here that relatively speaking not much of this money will go potentially to the environment,” Hogan said. “I have to determine the fairness of the settlement in the public interest based on the settlement, not based on what I think or what someone else thinks of all this.”

The judge took it all in, saying with a case this complex he will give it full consideration and not to expect a decision until the end of August.