TRENTON — Incensed by the governor’s recent settlement with Exxon Mobile over a series of ten-year-old environmental damage lawsuits, a Democratic state senator in Trenton says he’s prepared to pursue “each and every” option for challenging the move, including filing a public comment in opposition to the settlement with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and, if necessary, an appeal to the Appellate Division.
State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-20), an outspoken critic of Gov. Chris Christie and potential gubernatorial candidate in 2017, called the settlement “grossly inadequate” and criticized the Republican for letting the company off the hook.
“I grew up under that giant Exxon sign in the Bayway section of Elizabeth and feel personally offended at this weak effort by the Christie Administration in securing fair compensation for the extensive contamination admittedly done by Exxon Mobile to our environment,” Lesniak said in a statement. “They are settling for three cents on the dollar in a case where Exxon’s responsibility has already been established. This is a grossly inadequate amount of compensation that lets the mega oil company off the hook.”
The lawsuits, originally filed in 2004 by the state Department of Environmental Protection and aggressively pursued by three administrations, went to trial last year with Exxon’s liability already established. Over the weekend, the New York Times reported that the state had quietly settled that case, with Exxon paying $250 million out of the sought after $8.9 billion in environmental damages.
The paltry settlement has many criticizing Christie for once again cross-pollinating his home-state responsibilities with his burgeoning presidential ambitions. According to one report, Exxon contributed $500,000 last May to the Republican Governors Association that Christie chaired last year, a post which many believe helped him lay the beginnings of a potential 2016 campaign. More useful at home, however, is a provision in Christie’s latest budget that requires the state to use a minimum of $50 million from each settlement for purposes of cleaning up the respective contaminated sites — though anything else can be diverted into general funds and used to the administration’s liking.
Lesniak said that the agreement can be overturned if it is fraudulent, arbitrary or capricious and that this settlement “certainly appears to be arbitrary and capricious, to say the least.”