A New Jersey judge on Tuesday (8/25) approved a controversial settlement between Gov. Chris Christie’s administration and ExxonMobil over contamination at its old industrial sites in North Jersey.
State Superior Court Judge Michael Hogan, in an 81-page decision, called the deal “fair, reasonable, in the public interest, and consistent with the goals of the Spill Compensation and Control Act.”
The Texas oil giant agreed to pay $225 million to settle the decade-old suit, in which the state alleged damage to wetlands, marshes and waterways surrounding two refineries, known as Bayway and Bayonne. The case grew to include Exxon’s industrial facilities and gas stations around the state.
While Christie and his officials had hailed the settlement, which represents a higher per-acre receipt that previous pollution cases, the deal drew scorn from environmental groups and Democratic lawmakers, who accused the administration of caving for a fraction of its demands.
The state was initially seeking $8.9 billion — $2.5 billion to clean up the sites and $6.4 billion to restore wetlands and forestlands. The footprint of the contamination spanned more than 1,800 acres at the two sites.
Exxon didn’t dispute its liability for cleaning up the facilities, but the state argued Exxon also owed for the historic loss of wetland resources.
Exxon agreed to pay $225 million and will be on the hook for remedial cleanups at the sites.
In his decision, Hogan stressed that it isn’t the court’s role to determine whether the settlement is “one which the court itself might have fashioned, or considers ideal,” but whether it lives up to the standards for a contamination settlement.
“The fact that the recovery amount far outpaces the state’s previous wetlands settlement recoveries shows that the amount adequately compensates the public,” he wrote. “The fact that in the past, both federal trustees and other trial court judges have considered lower per-acre recovery sums to be reasonable, underscores the reasonableness of the DEP’s nearly 40 percent improvement over their historical average. Moreover, this recovery is adequate considering the litigation risks and real possibility that the state could have walked away from litigation with far less money, or none whatsoever.”
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