The proposed settlement that would let ExxonMobil off the hook for severe environmental damage contains a provision that would also allow the oil giant to go after local communities and the New Jersey Turnpike to help pay for it, Senator Raymond Lesniak said on Thursday. Language in what would be a legally-binding agreement if approved would specifically allow ExxonMobil to sue the Linden Roselle Sewerage Authority and the Turnpike Authority to pay some of the settlement costs, Senator Lesniak said after reviewing the proposed consent agreement.
“The proposed settlement reads like it was written by and for ExxonMobil at the expense of the local residents, the communities they live in and natural resources that were severely damaged,” said Senator Lesniak. “Now we learn that local taxpayers and motorists who use the Turnpike could be forced to pay part of Exxon’s settlement costs. This adds insult to injury that could shift costs from Exxon to the residents and tollpayers.”
Under the section entitled “Effect of Settlement and Contribution Protection,” paragraph 22 “expressly reserves all rights” for Exxon to pursue so-called “contribution lawsuits” against other parties that don’t sign on to the agreement, including the sewerage authority and the Turnpike. The Department of Environmental Protection is prohibited from opposing these lawsuits, according to the agreement that still must be approved by the DEP as well as the court.
Both the sewerage authority and the Turnpike were dismissed as defendants in 2007, Senator Lesniak said.
“The more we examine this settlement the worse it smells,” said Senator Lesniak. “Not only would it have Exxon pay a fraction of the damage, the oil company could try to force local taxpayers and tollpayers to pay some of the costs. Instead of serving the people of New Jersey, the settlement the Christie Administration wants to impose would protect Exxon.”
Senator Lesniak also faulted the settlement for allowing Exxon to escape responsibility for undisclosed damages at the 16 other facilities and hundreds of gas stations around the state.
Opposing the settlement since it was first disclosed, Senator Lesniak has urged the state DEP to reject it and, if it doesn’t, he wants the judge who was hearing the lawsuit to deny it. Senator Lesniak and other legislators will seek to have it overturned by the Appellate Division, if necessary.