Angered by reports about the Christie Administration’s settlement with ExxonMobile, state Senator Ray Lesniak (D-20) looked at Attorney General John Hoffman’s summary of the settlement this afternoon and denounced it as worse than reported.
“$225 million not $250 million,” Lesniak said. “Hoffman’s assertion that Exxon has to remediate the site was never in question. It’s still a $225 mil. settlement of a $8.9 bil. damage claim. Plus resolving other claims against Exxon other than gasoline additive releases.”
Hoffman and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin announced today that ExxonMobil has agreed to pay the State $225 million to resolve its liability for damage to the environment and injury to natural resources caused by contamination from its refinery operations in Bayonne and Linden, as well as from company service stations and other facilities located throughout New Jersey.
“The question remains did the AG ‘consult’ with the governor’s office or did the governor’s office run the show,” Lesniak said. “I intend to pursue the answer to that question as well as challenge the gross inadequacy of the $225 mil settlement.”
Earlier today, Lesniak said Hoffman should resign if an op-ed penned by a former Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) chief is true.
In a New York Times op-ed, former DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell wrote “the decision by the administration of Gov. Chris Christie to settle an environmental lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corporation for roughly three cents on the dollar after more than a decade of litigation is an embarrassment to law enforcement and good government. ”
Campbell charged that Christie’s attorney drove the settlement.
Lesniak said in response, “If former DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell’s statement is accurate, Acting Attorney General John Hoffman must resign. How do you turn a $8.9 billion damage claim, with liability already admitted, 11 years of litigation and $100 million of expert fees into a $250 million settlement? Apparently, this administration took it out of the hands of the career attorneys handling toxic contamination cases for the Attorney General and the Department of Environmental Protection and had the Governor’s Office engineer a depleted settlement.”
Assembly Minority Leader JonBramnick (R-21) called on Lesniak to back down from his statement.
“Lesniak’s call for resignation is unfair,” Bramnick said. “Senator Lesniak is well aware of how complicated litigation is, he actually has a firm that does litigation. John Hoffman is one of the lawyers in the state whom no one questions when it comes to integrity. For a lawyer to call for resignation is simply unfair. Litigation with ExxonMobile can go on forever. The case will be reviewed in court and there will be a public comment period.
“I would ask Senator Lesniak to withdraw his statement for the resignation of the attorney general,” the minority leader added.
In a statement, Lesniak hit back.
“Bramnick needs to read what I said before responding,’ said the senator. “I said if former DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell’s statement that the settlement was engineered by the governor’s chief counsel is accurate, Hoffman should resign. That still needs to be determined.”
Kevin Roberts, spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie, dismissed as “baseless” Campbell’s allegations concerning the state’s proposed settlement with ExxonMobil.
“Campbell’s attacks are even more irresponsible, disingenuous, and baldly political when you consider that as DEP Commissioner, Campbell projected Exxon’s liability could run into the ‘hundreds of millions of dollars’ and said the case would likely have a reasonable basis to be settled, rather than fully litigated,” said Roberts, who noted that during his time as DEP commissioner Campbell oversaw and heralded the settlement of hundreds of NRD claims and between 2002 and 2005 settled 267 NRD cases for a combined total of $29.4 million.