Treasurer: New Jersey won’t see Exxon settlement soon

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey won’t collect $225 million from the settlement of an environmental lawsuit against Irving-based Exxon Mobil Corp. anytime soon, the state’s top financial official told lawmakers on Wednesday.

Acting Treasurer Ford Scudder told the Assembly budget committee on Wednesday that the money is sitting in escrow but won’t be paid out this fiscal year, which ends June 30, because of continued litigation by plaintiffs seeking to intervene in the suit to force the company to pay more.

“We would encourage those parties involved to give up their quest and instead think in the best interest of all citizens of the state,” Scudder said.

A Superior Court judge in August approved a deal between the Christie administration and Exxon Mobil worth $225 million to the state. The state says it’s one of the largest settlements of its kind in state history.

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But environmental groups including the Sierra Club and state Sen. Ray Lesniak argued the state should have gotten more for pollution going back decades.

Lesniak and New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel declined to give up the appeal, which Tittel says is before the state’s appellate division with arguments expected sometime in September.

“The Christie Administration settled this case for pennies on the dollar, giving Exxon one of the biggest tax breaks in history,” Tittel said.

New Jersey sued ExxonMobil in 2004 for pollution dating back decades. The idea was to hold the company responsible not only for cleaning up polluted areas but to compensate the public for the alleged harm to groundwater, surface water and other ecological resources.

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The deal covered properties such as the gas stations that were not part of the lawsuit. It calls for the oil company to pay for environmental remediation at the sites for an as-yet-unknown cost.

The state had originally sought $8.9 billion but settled for less after it looked as if the alternative were a long legal fight with the petroleum company.

The Superior Court judge who approved the deal noted that the settlement is on top of Exxon’s responsibility to clean up the sites, which include two oil refineries in Bayonne and Linden and retail gas stations across New Jersey.

The cost of cleanup hasn’t been determined.

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Under law, about $50 million of the settlement will go toward site remediation. Another roughly $50 million will go toward the state’s private legal costs. The rest is slated to go into the state’s general fund.