State Senate Works to Block Christie From Settling Pollution Lawsuit Against Exxon

The New Jersey Senate approved two measures on Monday contesting Gov. Chris Christie’s attempt to settle a pollution lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corporation for a fraction of the damages that the state had originally sought.

By a vote of 24 to 0, the Senate approved a resolution urging a judge to reject a proposed $225 million settlement in the case. The state had sought $8.9 billion in damages for restoration and for loss of use of the land by the public because of contamination caused by refineries in Bayonne and Linden.

The resolution urged the state to withdraw from the proposed settlement agreement because it is “inappropriate, improper and inadequate,” and called on the governor, a Republican, “to obtain maximum compensation possible” for the damages to wetlands and waterways.

Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, a Democrat who grew up near the refineries and has become the Legislature’s chief critic of the deal, was plain in his objections.

“This deal stinks,” he said. “It is a betrayal of the public trust that gives a deep discount to one of the most profitable oil companies in the world. Under the circumstances of this case, the settlement is an outrageous shock to the conscience. It’s a sweetheart deal for Exxon, but a bad deal for New Jersey.”

The suits against Exxon were filed in 2004 and were litigated through the administrations of four governors. Exxon’s liability was established, and the Christie administration argued during a trial last year to establish damages that the state was owed $8.9 billion.

Separately, the Senate also approved a bill on Monday that would prevent Mr. Christie from directing as much money from environmental settlements into the state’s general fund.

Mr. Christie’s budget for the current year, and his proposal for the next year, directs that the first $50 million of any environmental settlement goes to cleanup and restoration efforts, and directs any remaining money to the state’s general fund. The bill, sponsored by a Democrat and passed largely along party lines, would require that half the money beyond that $50 million be dedicated to cleanup.

The governor has used money intended to resolve environmental damage to plug holes in chronically tight budgets over the last several years. To help balance the current budget, his administration anticipates more than $200 million in settlements from environmental lawsuits.

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