UNION COUNTY, NJ — Last week legislators and elected officials continued to vent outrage over the state settling the decades-long pollution lawsuit against ExxonMobil for $225 million, a fraction of the $8.9 billion they were initially seeking.
Democrat state Sen. Ray Lesniak was stonewalled late last week by the NJDEP who denied his request for documents related to the settlement.
At least 16 additional facilities and retail gas stations that are the source of contamination are covered by the proposed settlement, meaning ExxonMobil would be absolved of responsibility under the terms of the settlement, Lesniak said.
“The administration not only wants to give Exxon a big break with a settlement of cents on the dollar for polluting the Bayonne and Bayway communities, it wants to let them off the hook for damage at 16 other facilities and a countless number of service stations,” the state senator said in a statement released March 20.
Lesniak, who made the request to the NJDEP under the Open Public Records Act, was denied access to the documents, he said, because his request was “too broad” and did not specify locations.
The senator, an attorney, said he will go to court to “force” the state to comply with his request so the information can be made public.
Also looming is the April 6 release of the proposed settlement the state made with ExxonMobil, which then has a 30-day public comment period. The settlement then has to get the stamp of approval from a Superior Court judge before it is binding. Lesniak said he has a problem with that sort of a time frame.
“The public will only have 30-days to object to Christie’s settlement and the attorney general has not yet released the locations of the 16 other sites nor has the DEP released any information on the extent of the liability,” said Lesniak, adding it appeared to him as though the administration wanted to “run out the clock.”
Meanwhile the state senator started an online petition condemning the governor’s administration for its decision to settle the matter right before a Superior Court judge was about to rule on the matter. The petition, Lesniak said, has 6,000 signatures on it, but he is hoping that number could climb to 10,000 or higher this week.
The petition follows on the heels of the state senate’s decision last week to pass a resolution rejecting the deal, which environmentalists say sets a bad precedent for future polluters. The resolution, approved by all 24 Democrats, and with all 16 Republicans abstaining, asks a state judge to throw out the state’s controversial settlement with ExxonMobil.
News also surfaced late last week that the state will not see all of that $225 million after their legal team gets a 20 percent cut for litigating the matter.
The state has had an outside law firm, Kanner & Whiteley of New Orleans, which specializes in environmental lawsuits, handle the case on a contingency basis. The firm, though, would only receive the 20 percent cut if the settlement and legal fees are approved by the court.