New Criticism After New Jersey Posts Text of Exxon Settlement

Before Monday, critics focused on the decision by the administration of Gov. Chris Christie to accept only a small fraction of the $8.9 billion in damages that New Jersey had been seeking for natural resource damage and loss of use by the public of more than 1,500 acres of wetlands and marshes at refinery sites in Bayonne and Linden.

The lawsuits had been litigated by the state through the administrations of four governors. Exxon’s liability was eventually established, and the Christie administration took the case to trial last year seeking damages. Judge Michael J. Hogan was believed to be about to issue a ruling earlier this year when New Jersey officials told him that the case had been settled. The ruling has not been released.

At a news conference in Linden on Tuesday, critics of the proposed deal expressed dissatisfaction after having read the full agreement, which Debbie Mans, an official of an environmental group, said “leaves us with more questions than answers.”

The agreement, for example, would resolve potential claims against Exxon for natural resource damage at 16 facilities as well as at an unspecified number of Exxon service stations, which had not been part of the original lawsuits. The state’s environmental agency said on Monday that it had assessed the total liability at those sites at roughly $5 million, “making the value of any potential future recovery far outweighed by the cost to taxpayers to litigate these minor claims.”

Ms. Mans, the executive director of NY/NJ Baykeeper, said on Tuesday, “We have no information on the extent of damage caused by those sites from their pollution, and we don’t know how — if this is a fair allocation of the money and how that’s being done.”

The proposed deal also provides that a separate natural resource damage claim against Exxon in the original lawsuits, which is related to bodies of water — like the Arthur Kill and Newark Bay, the state has said — would be dismissed.

The deal says that such claims may be brought again only if the state were to file “a multidefendant action” naming Exxon and “other responsible parties.” In the original suits, Exxon, not the state, would be responsible for filing claims against other possible polluters.

Mr. Christie, a Republican, defended the proposed settlement at a town-hall-style meeting last month in Somerville, noting that the $225 million was “on top of” Exxon’s obligation to clean up the damage it had caused, and that there was “no cap” on what the company had to pay for the cleanup, which had to be done to the state’s satisfaction.

That cleanup obligation stemmed from a 1991 agreement with the state, and Exxon said last month that it had already spent about $260 million on it. Exxon said in a statement on Tuesday: “We’ll continue with the cleanup until the state is satisfied. We take our environmental responsibilities very seriously.”

The proposed $225 million settlement covers claims over a different issue, alleged damage to the state’s natural resources and their loss of use to the public. The proposed settlement says the deal is not to be considered a finding of “any wrongdoing or liability” by Exxon.

At the news conference, Mayor Derek Armstead of Linden, a Democrat who took office in January, said, “I have gone on record as saying that you cannot trust Exxon to clean up this ecosystem.”

State Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, also a Democrat, called the proposed deal “the biggest corporate giveaway” in the state’s history. He said he recently collected more than 15,000 names of people urging that the settlement be rejected, which would be submitted during the 60-day public comment period.

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