A state Superior Court judge has ruled against intervention from eight different environmental groups, as well as state Senator Raymond Lesniak (D-20), in the $225 million settlement with ExxonMobil – whose refinery sites polluted thousands of acres of land in Linden and Bayonne.
In a 35-page decision (per NJ Spotlight) from NJ Superior Court Judge Michael Hogan, the New York/New Jersey Baykeeper, NJ Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Delaware Riverkeeper, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Environmental NJ, Natural Resources Defense Council and NJ Audubon – as well as Lesniak – cannot intervene since they would be “unnecessarily” delaying the settlement further.
“They [the interveners] share the same ultimate goal with the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) and have not rebutted the presumption of adequacy that therefore arises,” Hogan wrote.
“As the public’s statutorily entrusted trustee for public resources, it is the DEP that has been charged with prosecuting the underlying action, and Intervenors have made no showing as to why the DEP cannot properly perform this function.”
The DEP was the organization that initially filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil back in 2004 after concerns about pollution arose. The settlement has been under scrutiny since March, since the suit was filed for $8.9 billion.
Additionally, the judge ruled that the environmentalists and Lesniak will cause “further undue delay,” since “it would give these parties two bites at the apple: they would be able to argue against the proposed settlement in the public comment forum and again at the settlement hearing.”
“To give these groups time to write briefs and prepare oral arguments for the hearing, proceedings would unnecessarily have to be further delayed,” he added.
Despite the setback, Lesniak said in a statement that “this fight is far from over:”
“This fight is far from over. I will file an amicus brief in Superior Court so that I have a legal role in the settlement process. The administration and Exxon are working together as allies but the people need a voice in the case.”
Jeff Tittel, the Director of the NJ Sierra Club, was one of many environmental leaders involved in the suit who decried the legal decision.
“DEP sold out New Jersey to Exxon and now the judge has not allowed us to intervene to try to block it. People in New Jersey who have been dumped on by these big corporate polluters deserve to have someone on their side,” Tittel said in a statement.
“Too many of our communities are suffering from toxic pollution. Polluters must be held accountable to restore and clean up their mess. We believe that the judge was wrong and we’re going to continue our battle to prevent this sell-out of our environment.”
Last month, the state Assembly Judiciary Committee held a hearing at Bayonne City Hall for residents and activists to have their voices heard on the Exxon settlement.