ExxonMobil Corporation and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) received court approval of a $225 million consent judgment on August 25, 2015, in a closely-watched dispute over natural resource damages (NRD) caused by the oil giant. In signing off on the settlement, Superior Court Judge Michael J. Hogan deemed the terms as fair, reasonable, in the public interest and consistent with the goals of the Spill Compensation and Control Act (Spill Act, N.J.S.A. 58:10-23.11). Although the Natural Resources Defense Counsel and other environmental groups argued that the payment by Exxon was inadequate – representing a fraction of the $8.9 billion originally calculated by the NJDEP – Judge Hogan disagreed, noting that $225 million exceeded all previous wetland settlement recoveries within the state of New Jersey.
Moreover, the court determined that the settlement was fair and reasonable with respective to reach party’s litigation risks had the case proceeded to trial. The settlement brings to an end several actions in which Exxon was named as a defendant involving wetlands contamination by petroleum refinery and storage facilities in Bayonne and Linden, New Jersey. The settlement also covers potential NRD claims stemming from Exxon’s ground contamination at more than 1,700 retail gasoline stations throughout the state.
While the $225 million payment by Exxon is certainly a large settlement for NJDEP, Michelman & Bricker’s New Jersey environmental compliance lawyers note that the case is also noteworthy in other respects. Judge Hogan applied, and thus, adopted, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)’s standard, that consent decrees be “fair, reasonable, in the public interest, and consistent” with the act, to judicial review of Spill Act consent decrees for the first time. Additionally, the court preserved various precedential pre-trial rulings as law, including (a) that the Spill Act can be applied retroactively to pre-1977 NRDs, (b) that damage to any land – regardless of ownership or proximity to a high water-mark – can qualify as an NRD and (c) that the Spill Act allows consideration for loss of use when determining the costs of mitigating NRDs.
New Jersey Environmental Compliance Lawyers at Michelman & Bricker, P.C. Understand Spill Act Claims
At Michelman & Bricker, P.C., our New Jersey environmental compliance lawyers are closely monitoring the Exxon settlement as well as other Spill Act cases and settlement agreements that could affect our clients. We offer sound advice on compliance with all relevant environmental statutes and will help negotiate a fair settlement to reduce your exposure if a violation has occurred.
We have experience negotiating with state and federal authorities over complex Spill Act and CERCLA claims. We previously served as liaison counsel for 70 transporters in the BEMS Landfill litigation, supervising their participation in an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process and mediation to allocate $30+ million in cleanup costs under the New Jersey Spill Act.
Call 215-557-9440 or contact us online today to schedule your consultation at our offices in Cherry Hill, NJ or Philadelphia, PA, where we serve clients throughout the surrounding area.