Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Governor Christie's Exxon settlement drawing more heat

Democrats in the the New Jersey legislature have been holding hearings to draw attention to a settlement over pollution damages with ExxonMobil that they see as a 3-cent-on-the-dollar sellout to the oil giant. Environmental organisations and a state senator have been testifying and gathering signatures on a petition they hope will convince a federal judge to overrule the settlement. 

Now, four new developments 

1. New York City Mayor Mayor Bill de Blasio urges New Jersey to reject deal.   
“The city believes that the proposed settlement, as drafted, does not adequately compensate for the extensive and well-documented natural resource damage caused by the Exxon facilities and does not ensure that those damages will be addressed,” the office of Zachary W. Carter, the New York City corporation counsel, wrote in a letter on Friday. 
The letter was filed on the last day of a two-month public-comment period before the deal is to be submitted to a judge for approval. A spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection said on Friday that as of the middle of last week, the agency had received about 8,800 comments on the proposed deal.

. Could Exxon 'write off' the deal as a tax deduction

State Senator Ray Lesniak, the lead voice in the Legislature seeking to end the deal over contamination from Exxon Mobil’s refineries, testified at a hearing Wednesday that language in the proposed settlement could allow the oil giant to write off the $225 million as a business expense, reducing its final cost and, ultimately, shifting the difference to taxpayers.
Lesniak, a Democrat from Union County, said the use of the word “alleged” to qualify the damages would distance the corporation from liability, allowing it to seek a state and federal tax break.

Legislation released from a state senate committee would 
ask voters to back a resolution preventing diversions of environmental cleanup funds for other purposes--like plugging holes in the state budget as Gov. Christie plans to do. NJ Spotlight reports that the resolution (SCR-163)...
...stems from a controversy over diverting much of a $225 million settlement involving Exxon Mobil.The disputed draft settlement is from a natural-resources damages suit largely related to pollution claims against facilities once operated by Exxon Mobil in Linden and Bayonne. Beyond funding state operations, the money would be used to pay a private law firm hired by the state to conduct the litigation.  

4. The Record criticized the settlement in a Saturday editorial. The paper wrote
The main problem with the deal boils down to simple math. The state's original suit in 2004 sought $8.9 billion from Exxon for causing widespread pollution near its facilities in Bayonne and Linden. The courts subsequently ruled that Exxon was liable for contaminating about 1,500 acres of wetlands, leaving how much the company would pay in damages the only open question.
A judge was reportedly close to deciding when the Christie administration agreed to settle the case for $225 million. Plaintiffs never get all that they seek, so no reasonable person expected the state to get $8.9 billion. However, $225 million equates to about three cents on the dollar.
The state has argued that the administration of Gov. Jon Corzine, Governor Christie's predecessor, was willing to settle the case for $550 million, which also would have been amere fraction of $8.9 billion. But critics say that was before a court ruled that the Spill Compensation and Control Act could be applied retroactively, meaning that Exxon theoretically could be held liable for causing pollution at its refineries since they were developed more than 100 years ago. That could mean damages that far exceed $225 million.   

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