TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) - New Jersey announced a $225 million settlement with Exxon Mobil on Thursday that state officials say is the largest environmental settlement in state history, though it has been criticized by Democratic lawmakers who say it is for a mere fraction of the nearly $9 billion initially sought.
Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said the settlement over refinery sites in Linden and Bayonne is separate from Exxon Mobil's obligation to clean up the sites at its own expense.
"This important settlement, which came about because this administration aggressively pushed the case to trial, is the result of long fought settlement negotiations that pre-dated and post-dated the trial,'' Hoffman said in a statement.
But Democratic lawmakers noted that the state initially sought far more, $8.9 billion, in damages.
New Jersey Announces $225M Exxon Mobil Settlement
Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville), a frequent critic of Christie, released a statement criticizing the settlement.
"Serious concerns have been raised about the proposed settlement of environmental liability and natural resource damage claims between the State of New Jersey and ExxonMobil," Wisniewski said in the statement. "Allegations that the governor's chief counsel inserted himself into the negotiations, questions about whether the settlement amount represents adequate compensation for the state's claims and the timing of the agreement when the judge in the case was on the verge of rendering an opinion all raise questions as to whether this settlement was properly reached and is in the best interests of our state."
State Senate President Steve Sweeney and Sen. Ray Lesniak had threatened to file a lawsuit objecting to the settlement, and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said this week he would a hold hearing on the matter.
"Whether it was the attorney general or the governor's office or both of them in consultation, they made a bad deal for the people of the state of New Jersey and we're going to fight to stop it," Lesniak told WCBS 880's Levon Putney.
A judge found the company liable at trial last year but no damage amount had been determined.
In late January, attorneys sent a letter to the judge asking him to refrain from ruling because the two sides had ``agreed on the general parameters of a settlement.'' They notified him on Feb. 20 that they had reached an agreement.
The case stretches back to 2004, when the state Department of Environmental Protection and the state attorney general brought a suit against Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil Corp. The suit charged that Exxon's petroleum refining plants in Linden and Bayonne fouled the land and water. The state sought to recoup losses stemming from the lack of use of the land and the contamination of groundwater.
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