By David Cruz
Depending on who you talk to, the proposed settlement between the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and ExxonMobil is either an environmental settlement of historic proportions or “The largest sellout in state history,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the NJ Sierra Club. “It’s the biggest corporate giveaway we’ve ever seen here.”
Today the DEP released a copy of the consent judgment, a requirement to start the clock on a review and comment period for interested parties to be heard on the subject. The Tittel has been watching this case for years and has formed his opinion.
“Not only is this a bad deal but it send a message to other polluters that if you pollute in New Jersey you get away with a slap on the wrist and maybe pay a few pennies toward the damages that you’ve already done to the environment,” said Tittel.
The Christie administration, having announced this settlement to great fanfare, has, at times, appeared defensive about it since. The governor has been asked about it at his last two town hall meetings and showed some of his frustration at what he said is inaccurate reporting about it when a school teacher in Kenilworth brought it up recently.
The deal, in which ExxonMobil admits to nothing, includes a lot more sites than originally reported — 16 facilities in all, from Atlantic City to Teterboro plus what could be several hundred gas stations.
“What was a bad deal is even worse because when you add up the damages that are from these other sites that are being waived off by this administration it adds up to billions of dollars more,” said Tittel.
Democrats have blasted the proposed settlement since day one. In the Senate last month, they approved a resolution condemning the deal and threatened to send a copy of it to the judge in the case, which had some Republicans flabbergasted.
“Oh really? That’s the process,” snapped Republican Sen. Kevin O’Toole. “We’ve heard it’s the first time you’ve ever done it. You wanna know why? It’s wrong!”
Sen. Ray Lesniak called the settlement the biggest corporate giveaway in history today and said he will join environmentalists and others to stop it in court. A statement from the DEP admonished critics to do their homework.
“They don’t consider how expensive these cases are to litigate,” said the statement. “They don’t take into consideration the appeals that could take years or even decades to continue to litigate at taxpayers’ expense.”
The DEP says that full restoration of the sites is an impracticality, and that remediation is the quickest way to make these sites usable again. The public will now have two months, starting today, to weigh in.