TRENTON — The chair of the Assembly Judiciary committee, after hearing testimony from environmental advocates on the state’s settlement with Exxon Mobil, said he’d “literally rather lose” the $225 million in environmental damage liabilities than set a bad precedent for future polluters.
“This is about having stood toe to toe with Exxon every step up the way, and then when they were finally at settlement, to take a step back,” said Assemblyman John McKeon (D-27). “That sends the absolute wrong message.”
McKeon’s committee sought clarifications on the state’s controversial settlement with Exxon today, which critics have blasted for letting the company off the hook in the face of an estimated $9 billion in environmental damages at oil refinery sites in places like Bayonne and Linden. The deal has also served as a flash point in the legislature, pitting Republicans who have a called for calm in the face of outrage surrounding the settlement against Democrats who oppose it.
Republican’s on the committee today, including Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21) and Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-25), reiterated that stance today, asking critics of the settlement to restrict themselves to the facts of the situation and stop “assigning motives.”
McKeon said he’d continue to seek independent council on the settlement, work with speakers in both the Assembly and Senate on moving legislation about it, and fight for transcripts of the initial trail, which have been difficult to obtain from Gov. Chris Christie’s administration since it brought the case to a close earlier this month. But he didn’t hesitate to offer his own opinion on the deal, which he called “too important” not to vet.
“I’d literally rather lose than ratify the behavior of a bad actor who stonewalled, given the chance many many times to do the right thing by the people of New Jersey,” he said, referring to years of litigation the state had to go through with Exxon to get where it is now.
The committee released three bills relating to the settlement. A4281 and S2791, sponsored by McKeon in the Assembly and state Senator Paul Sarlo (D-37) in the Senate and passed 4-2, would both require 50 percent of any money received from environmental settlements over $50 million dollars go to the state’s general fund, with 50 percent earmarked for the intended cleanup of the contaminated sites. A4307, passed unanimously, would increase the required public notice for settlements entered into by Department of Environmental Protection, such as Exxon’s from 30 days to 60 days.
“I don know how any person could reasonably argue that after 125 years of pollution … just a thirty day window to comment would be equitable,” McKeon said.