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article imageNew Jersey ex-official calls Exxon settlement 'troubling'

By David Silverberg     Mar 5, 2015 in Politics
In light of a recent settlement between New Jersey and Exxon Mobil stemming from legal battles probing contamination and pollution in the state, a state ex-official is speaking out against Gov. Chris Christie's office for brokering the controversial deal.
Bradley M. Campbell, the commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection in 2004 when the lawsuits against Exxon were filed, wrote in the New York Times that “even more troubling” than the decision to settle the lawsuit were “the circumstances surrounding the decision.”
Last week, the state had reached a deal to settle its $8.9 billion claim for about $250 million.
Campbell writes that a former colleagues of his in the state government told him that Christie's chief counsel Christopher S. Porrino “inserted himself into the case, elbowed aside the attorney general and career employees who had developed and prosecuted the litigation, and cut the deal favorable to Exxon.”
Despite announcement of the settlement, Democratic lawmakers are not taking the decision lying down. In a joint statement, state Senate President Steve Sweeney and state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) said they plan to file a motion with the court to block the settlement, as media reports state.
"When we learned that the administration planned to accept the equivalent of three cents on the dollar for the extensive damage to the environment we decided to intervene to stop them and to protect the state's interests," Sweeney said. "The agreement would sell us short by failing to make up for the harm to natural resources and the threat to the public's health. It would let Exxon off the hook when they have already been held responsible."
The settlement comes after the state alleged that industrial activity spoiled thousands of acres of vital wetland habitat over decades, according to court papers.
Critics are confused about the lack of a public rationale for why the state would decide to settle a lawsuit that it had invested so much effort and time in trying to win. As the Times writes, environmentalists fear that Christie, a Republican, "wants to use the money for other budgetary needs. Indeed, a state appropriations law, proposed by Christie last year, says that any funds beyond the first $50 million collected in damages or other environmental recoveries shall go to the state’s general fund."
The deal will be submitted for public comment in April and then to a state judge for approval in May.
According to Reuters investigating this story, Exxon and Christie's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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