Update: Environmental groups’ expectations in ExxonMobil settlement

MICHAEL CATALINI, Associated Press

Coalition of environmental groups set expectations for their day in court in ExxonMobil case.

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A coalition of environmental groups are about to have their day in court in an attempt to derail the state's proposed $225 million settlement with ExxonMobil, which critics say falls short by billions of dollars.

The groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, NY/NJ Baykeeper and Sierra Club New Jersey, and state Sen. Raymond Lesniak are set to appear before Superior Court Judge Michael Hogan Friday. The groups are asking the judge to grant their motion to intervene in the case.

Here's a look at the case and what to expect:

WHAT THE ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS WANT

The case involves petroleum facilities in Bayonne and Linden — known as Bayway — and 16 other sites as well as all the company's retail gasoline stations. The coalition of seven groups says the proposed $225 million payout from ExxonMobil pales in comparison to what the company owes the state to restore the polluted land.

Margaret Brown, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, says they're not saying just how much they think the settlement ought to be, but she pointed out the state's own legal briefs specify $8.9 billion. The groups, she says, don't have enough information to know the cost of restoration there.

The groups also want the chance to file appeals, which the intervention would grant them, Lesniak says.

WHAT THE STATE AND EXXONMOBIL ARE SEEKING

Simply put, all signs suggest they want the settlement to go forward. The state has filed a brief opposing the intervention, arguing it would lengthen and complicate the more than-decade-old case.

The Christie administration said after the proposal was unveiled earlier this year that it's a good deal for New Jersey because it's among the largest natural resources settlements in history and litigating in pursuit of $8.9 billion could drag on interminably, resulting in no money for the public.

The administration also points out ExxonMobil must still pay to remediate the polluted land apart from the settlement. ExxonMobil has declined comment about the case, but has pointed out it's already spent nearly $200 million to clean up parts of polluted land in the state going back more than decade.

NEXT UP

Superior Court Judge Michael Hogan may rule from the bench Friday on the motion to intervene, though he could also rule later.

It's unclear what would happen if he allows the groups and Lesniak to intervene. Brown says there's a range of possible outcomes if the intervention is allowed. For example, she says, the judge could limit how involved the groups could become, including the chance to request information that is not already public.

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