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Opponents of Christie's Exxon Mobil Deal Return to Court

The Law Office of C. William Smalling, P.C. Feb. 18, 2016

The settlement between Gov. Chris Christie's administration and Exxon Mobil is being challenged by state legislators and a coalition of environmental groups. Sen. Ray Lensiak (D-Union) and the Environmental Law Clinic at Columbia Law School filed legal briefs this past Monday disputing a judge's decision that they could no longer question or interfere with the $225 million agreement that had been formally approved last August.

That deal had, it was thought, brought to a close a 10-year legal battle between the State of New Jersey and the Texas oil company concerning contamination by Exxon's refineries in north Jersey of nearby waterways and wetlands.

Opponents of the deal criticized the settlement both for being far less than the $8.9 billion New Jersey's experts claimed the state was owed and for being arranged precipitously, just before the judge was expected to rule on the issue. Christie's administration, however, has praised the settlement, referring to it as the largest of its kind in state history.

When, following the approval of the deal, Lesniak and several environmental groups, including the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Environment New Jersey, and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, sought to appeal State Superior Court Judge Michael Hogan's decision, Hogan denied their request to intervene. According to Lesniak, this judicial denial gave "the right of appeal."

At this point, the environmental groups and Lesniak, in separate legal briefs, are arguing that the judge erred in not giving them the right to challenge the decision, and are seeking the right to intervene in the state appellate court. Their argument is twofold: (1) that the agreement violates both state and federal environmental laws because it permits Exxon to postpone cleanups of some parts of their industrial sites and (2) that Christie's administration, in agreeing to the settlement, violated the public trust.

Jeff Tittel, head of the New Jersey Sierra Club has commented that "What's ironic is if we win, the Christie administration ends up getting more money, and we get a better cleanup."

This case clearly illustrates the complications and controversies surrounding issues involving oil and gas environmental law. This is why it is so important that all oil and gas companies have attorneys experienced in this area working with them to defend their rights and their assets.