Why New Jersey judge shut advocates out of Exxon settlement negotiations

Superior Court Judge Michael Hogan on Friday dismissed a lawsuit challenging the settlement between the oil giant and the state of New Jersey.

Gene J. Puskar/AP
Gas prices are on display at a Pittsburgh Exxon mini-mart, Feb. 27, 2012. A New Jersey judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit challenging the $225 settlement between the Exxon Mobil and the state of New Jersey.

A New Jersey judge ruled Friday that environmental groups and a Democratic state senator cannot intervene in the state’s $225 million settlement with Exxon Mobil.

On Friday, Superior Court Judge Michael Hogan denied the request from state Sen. Raymond Lesniak and four environmental groups to intervene in a potential settlement between Exxon Mobil and New Jersey over contaminated gas stations. Judge Hogan said the groups did not have standing to bring the lawsuit to begin with.

New Jersey was originally seeking $8.9 billion for natural resources damaged by pollution from 1,700 retail gasoline stations, two oil refineries, and a number of other sites owned by the Texas-based oil and gas provider. Shortly before Judge Hogan ruled on the case, Exxon and New Jersey announced they had reached a settlement for $225 million.

The money, regardless of the amount, will be used to clean up the various sites and rectify damages done to natural resources. The Christie administration said the settlement was a better option, as pursing the $8.9 billion originally requested by the state would result in long and expensive litigation.

Clean Water Action, Delaware Riverkeeper, Environment New Jersey, and New Jersey Sierra Club are planning further appeals. This is the second time Judge Hogan has denied their petitions for the case.

The groups have not set an amount they would seek from Exxon Mobil, but it would be more than the $225 million. The New Jersey Sierra Club calls the settlement “the biggest sellout of taxpayer money in state history” on their website.

The state Department of Environmental Protection and Mr. Hogan have said that Exxon Mobil will be required to clean the sites, but the environmental groups do not believe the required clean up will be enough.

“This deal only requires Exxon to cap and fill the sites, which is not really a cleanup. Instead of cleaning it up, they would leave tons of oil and chemicals in the ground,” The New Jersey Sierra Club wrote in a statement on their website. “These sites are extremely contaminated and impact streams and wetlands.”

The state of New Jersey opposed the intervention. 

Exxon Mobil spokesman Todd Spitler told the Associated Press the settlement is fair and reasonable and Judge Hogan’s decision provides certainty.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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