We’ve been keeping a close eye on a controversy out of New Jersey, which continues to get more interesting by the day. To briefly recap, after Exxon damaged more than 1,500 acres of wetlands in northern New Jersey, the state filed an $8.9 billion lawsuit. The case progressed in the state’s favor – Exxon’s culpability was effectively already decided. The only remaining question was how much the oil giant would pay in damages.
Last week, however, New Jersey settled the case. After seeking $8.9 billion – $2.6 billion for environmental restoration and $6.3 billion in compensatory damages – the state agreed to accept just $250 million. That’s roughly 3% of the original target, and most of that total would go towards closing the governor’s budget shortfall, rather than environmental repair.
On the show last night, state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D) told Rachel, “We want to find out who engineered this. Was it the attorney general’s office? Was it [the state’s Department of Environmental Protection] or was it maybe someone in the governor’s office?”
The latest New York Times report seeks to answer that question.
For more than a decade, the New Jersey attorney general’s office conducted a hard-fought legal battle to hold Exxon Mobil Corporation responsible for decades of environmental contamination in northern New Jersey.But when the news came that the state had reached a deal to settle its $8.9 billion claim for about $250 million, the driving force behind the settlement was not the attorney general’s office – it was Gov. Chris Christie’s chief counsel, Christopher S. Porrino, two people familiar with the negotiations said.
Bradley Campbell, the commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection when the lawsuit was first filed, argues today that Christie’s chief counsel “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.”
Christie’s office has not yet offered an explanation for the developments. The Times’ report noted that the issue did not come up during a town-hall meeting the governor held yesterday, adding, “He did not take questions from the news media, and his spokesman declined to comment.”
Democratic leaders in New Jersey’s state legislature have scheduled hearings to further explore the matter.
The fact that Exxon was quite generous to the Republican Governors Association during Christie’s tenure as RGA chairman probably doesn’t help matters.