Attorney general urged to investigate ExxonMobil

UNION COUNTY, NJ — Senator Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, has joined forces with environmental groups in urging New Jersey Attorney General Robert Lougy to join the governors of New York and California in launching an investigation into ExxonMobil, the Texas-based oil company once part of Standard Oil.

Recent allegations have come forth that Exxon has been concealing the truth about the dangers of fossil fuels and their effect on climate change. A new investigation into the oil giant revealed that it knew and understood the science back in the ’70s, before it became a public issue, and spent millions to promote misinformation.

“They’ve known about it for decades,” said Lesniak. “They have withheld this information and have been promoting false reports to contradict their own scientists’ reports. I think they are most likely the single most culpable party responsible for the growing danger of climate change and rising tides due to global warming.”

Exxon’s response to the revelation was a released statement back in October 2015, accusing environmental groups and the media of disseminating misinformation, stating that, “the media and environmental activists’ allegations about the company’s climate research are inaccurate and deliberately misleading.”

According to David Pringle, campaign director of Clean Water Action New Jersey, our state should be invested in uncovering the truth about Exxon. “New Jersey has been triply impacted,” said Pringle. “As a coastal state we’re especially vulnerable to the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather like Floyd, Irene, and Sandy, and sea levels rising is due to the climate crisis.”

Pringle went on to cite the state’s economy as another victim of the crisis. “Renewables and efficiency create more jobs and cost less than fossil fuels when all costs are considered,” said Pringle.

Debbie Mans, executive director and baykeeper of NY/NJ Baykeeper, based in Keyport, says that Exxon has left a toxic legacy. “Here in New Jersey ExxonMobil has left a legacy of toxic contamination in our communities, especially Linden and Bayonne,” said Mans. “Our wetlands and waterlands were used by ExxonMobil as dumping grounds for their petrochemical waste. Exxon needs to move forward with a comprehensive cleanup that includes the removal of this pollution from our communities.”

The area in Linden that Mans is referring is a 1,300-acre Bayway Refinery, located at 1400 Park Ave, that was opened by Standard Oil in 1909. Standard Oil later became ExxonMobil. A state report found that 7 million gallons of oil have spilled and seeped into the ground. Between the Bayway and Bayonne refineries, 600 different contaminants have been found in the soil.

According to Mans, the Linden and Bayonne refineries, as well as other areas in the state contaminated by Exxon, are now closed off to the public. “Cleanup activities have been slow to nonexistent on the sites,” said Mans.

Lesniak has cited Gov. Chris Christie as being part of the problem. “Governor Christie went on record and said my request to the attorney general to investigate Exxon was nonsense,” he said. “I attribute that to Exxon being a contributor to his political endeavors,” said Lesniak of the governor.

Mans agrees, stating that Exxon contributed a large sum to Christie. “Exxon donated a significant amount of money — $500,000, I believe — to the Republicans Governors Association. This was the same time that Governor Christie was the head of the association.”

Jeff Tittel, Chapter Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, believes that the investigation into Exxon is imperative. “Exxon’s been covering up the truth. If they lied about climate change, who knows what else they’re lying about?” said Tittel. “They’ve been funding climate change deniers. The duplicity and duality just shows. We think there needs to be an independent investigation.”

According to Pringle, the attorney general does not need legislative action or the Governor’s support to conduct an investigation. “As the chief law enforcement office in New Jersey, the attorney general already has the authority and should investigate Exxon for shareholder and consumer fraud.”

Lesniak says that New Jersey should be leading the way in the investigation into the company. “New Jersey is basically ground zero for climate change,” said Lesniak. “We have the coastline, rising tides. The attorney general is supposed to be an independent law enforcement officer but he has no power and he serves at the pleasure of the governor.”

Although Christie has gone on record as saying that climate change is real, he got quieter on the subject during his 2016 presidential bid. “We don’t need this massive government intervention to deal with the problem,” he said during a Republican debate.

As of press time, calls to the offices of the governor and attorney general were unsuccessful.

In a letter to Lougy signed by Lesniak, The New Jersey Sierra Club, Clean water Action, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, the Conservation Law Foundation, and the National Environmental Movement, the attorney general is asked “to review Exxon’s internal documents and other information related to the official actions and statements regarding climate change risks.”

Pringle believes that the issue must be tackled as a collective. “The climate crisis is an all-hands-on-deck issue with many fronts,” he said. “Many groups like mine, political leaders like Senator Lesniak, members of the press, and captains of industry are rising to the occasion. New Jersey’s attorney general needs to do the same.”

But Mans is doubtful of Lougy stepping up to the plate. “If going after polluters is not a priority for Governor Christie, then it’s not a priority for the attorney general,” she said.