TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey judge approved a $225 million deal Tuesday between Gov. Chris Christie’s administration and ExxonMobil over dozens of polluted sites and nearly 2,000 retail gas stations.
Superior Court Judge Michael Hogan ruled that while the deal is much less than the $8.9 billion the state originally sought, it is a “reasonable compromise” considering “substantial litigation risks” faced by the state in the 11-year-old case that spanned Democratic and Republican governors.
The Christie administration has called the deal the nation’s second-largest of its kind against a corporate polluter.
The deal was criticized by environmental groups and Democrats who control the state Legislature. They said the settlement is just a fraction of the billions of dollars New Jersey should have recovered.
Exxon’s massive damage to New Jersey’s environment couldn’t have been more clear, Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, said in a statement.
“Today’s decision by the court sadly rubber-stamps the Christie administration’s sell-out settlement,” O’Malley said. “This settlement still stinks.”
Hogan opens his 81-page ruling with a quote from a previous, unrelated case: “Nearly any consent decree can be viewed simultaneously as ‘a crackdown or a sellout.'”
The settlement is “fair, reasonable, in the public interest, and consistent with the goals of the Spill Compensation and Control Act,” the judge wrote.
Under law, about $50 million of the settlement will go toward site remediation. Another roughly $50 million will go toward the state’s private legal costs. The rest will go into the general fund.
New Jersey sued Exxon Mobil for natural resources damage in 2004. The idea was to hold the company responsible not only for cleaning up polluted areas, which include two oil refineries in Bayonne and Linden, as well as other sites and retail gas stations across New Jersey, but to compensate the public for the harm.
The Exxon case went to trial last year, but the settlement was struck before a judge issued a ruling. The deal covered properties such as the gas stations that were not part of the lawsuit. It calls for the oil company to pay for environmental remediation at the sites for an as-yet-unknown cost.
Environmental advocates complain that the amount of cleanup the company must do is less under the settlement than it would have been if the state had prevailed in the lawsuit. For instance, a state expert said the cleanup and restoration of one site would have come to $2.7 billion. But under the agreement, the company could do a lower-cost remediation rather than a full restoration.