Sierra Club: We Will Fight Murphy Admin Grabbing Exxon Money

We Will Fight Murphy Admin Grabbing Exxon Money

During her testimony at the Senate Budget Committee hearing today, Acting DEP Commissioner McCabe announced that according to the Treasurer, the constitutional dedication for environmental settlements funds will not apply to the Exxon settlement. Her breakdown names only $100 million going to the department with roughly half of that used for lawyer spending. This leaves only $50 million to use to clean up the communities and environments who have suffered from Exxon’s pollution.

“The Murphy Administration stealing the Exxon money is inexcusable. He’s doing just what Christie planned to do to divert the money away from environmental clean-up to plug budget holes. The people of New Jersey have been victimized twice- first by the pollution and second by the state settling less than $225 million for natural resource damages estimating more than $8.9 billion at two refineries and then adding 16 additional sites, and over 800 gas stations. These are Environmental Justice communities that have been damaged and that will suffer without the money. If Governor Murphy really wants to help these communities he would fight for more money from Exxon and make sure all of it is spent on helping clean the environment and communities affected by Exxon.,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We are investigating a possible lawsuit and going to court to challenge this. Senator Smith has asked OLS for a legal opinion as well. We want to thank the Legislature, including Senator Sweeney and Speaker Coughlin, for instead filing a brief in support of the Sierra Club and others working to appeal the Exxon decision. We will ask them to block this in the budget.”

At the end of March, the State of New Jersey Attorney General filed motion opposing our certification request to the supreme court to take up the Exxon Case. The New Jersey Sierra Club has asked the Supreme Court to take up the Exxon case, along with Clean Water Action, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and Environment New Jersey. We have filed a Notice of a Petition for Certification today in the case NJ Sierra Club vs NJDEP on the Exxon settlement.

“Governor Murphy made a campaign commitment not to steal the funds and criticized Christie for taking the money. Now he’s doing exactly the same thing. Yesterday McCabe expressed uncertainty about the case but today was strong about the settlement going through and the funds being diverted. By opposing our appeal to the Supreme Court, the State is agreeing that the settlement was acceptable. We challenged this settlement because polluters need to clean up their mess and pay for the damages they’ve done. If we’re not awarded certification, the settlement will stand, and Exxon will get away with the biggest government subsidy in state history,” said Jeff Tittel. “This news brings the total amount of environmental funds diverted to $414 million from settlements or programs: $140 from the Clean Energy Fund, $80 from the DEP, and $65 from the Volkswagen settlement, and now $125 from the Exxon settlement.”

The settlement also includes additional industrial sites in Paulsboro, Flemington and Pennington oil depots, Edison Research Lab, Linden oil depot and many other contaminated sites around New Jersey. The Paulsboro Refinery is a 950-acre site that has contaminated wetlands and tidal marshes and clean up there alone could cost billions. There was a 135,000-gallon oil spill and nine additional spills as well contaminating 63 acres of the aquifer and billions of gallons of groundwater. In our own files we’ve found information on two gas stations, the Linden Exxon lab, and the Paulsboro Exxon Lube site.

“They’re hiding behind the fact that the deal was signed prior to the constitutional dedication. This is a technicality that they’re using as a rationalization and false argument. They’re just looking for an excuse to grab the money. Their challenge to our appeal also sets a terrible precedent that undermines the right of people to challenge government decisions, especially bad ones. The Governor is siding with corporate polluters over public interest,” said Jeff Tittel. “What we find even more troubling is that we’re still waiting to hear from the Supreme Court on if they will take our appeal, essentially undercutting us to grab the money. If we won in Court the people would have gotten more money. Their opposition to our appeal shows that they care more about plugging a budget hole than cleaning up or protecting the environment.”

Last Fall, New Jersey voters approved Ballot Question #2 to dedicate environmental settlement funds to environmental clean-ups. This will block future administrations from robbing the money meant for repairing, preserving, or restoring natural resources. In NJ, these resources are held in the Public Trust. If you spill chemicals and destroy them, you not only have to clean-up your mess, but also compensate the public for their loss.

“We’re doing the job that first the Christie Administration and then the Murphy Administration should have been doing and we will continue to do that job in court if need be. It’s shameful that the Murphy Administration isn’t fighting back against the Exxon settlement. They have officially opposed our appeal on the case and now are accepting a diversion of most of the funds. They are not only signing off on the biggest sell-out on a pollution case in state history but stealing half of those meager funds away from environmental purposes. We’re going to court to stand up for the people of New Jersey and to oppose this settlement. We’re doing the job that the state of NJ should have been doing. If we win the case, they get more money. That’s why it makes no sense for them to oppose us,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We’re still in court and if we win, we’ll get more money for the people of New Jersey. We will also go to court to make sure the money goes to the right places: the people who have suffered from Exxon’s pollution.”

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