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New Jersey: Christie Administration Settles with Exxon for 3 cents on the Dollar

2015-03-05
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As I noted a few days ago, the New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s administration had inserted itself into an environmental damage case against Exxon that was already decided; the only thing pending was for a judge to set the final damage figure.  Experts had testified at trial that the damages were worth $8.9 billion; Christie secretly settled for about $225 million, and threw in relief of liability for other Exxon damage problems at service stations around the state.  An ex-official for the Attorney General’s office blew the whistle and this was reported in the New York Times.   Now the Christie administration has come out with a statement praising itself for the settlement and calling the complaints of the ex-official a baldly political smear.   As usual, statements from the Christie administration and from the mouth of Christie himself are lies.

The fact is that Exxon was the only one of numerous oil companies who refused to settle over environmental damages at the enormous refinery facilities in New Jersey when the bill finally came due about ten years ago.  Other companies offered big, forward-looking settlements that included extensive environmental remediation.  Exxon stonewalled, and New Jersey was forced to sue.  After ten years of litigation, during which Exxon had every chance to offer a settlement in the billions of dollars, at the moment when the judge in the case had already made Exxon’s liability clear and was only ruminating on the total amount of the settlement, Christie asked the judge to postpone his decision and offered Exxon this absurdly low settlement, which probably doesn’t even cover the cost to the state of litigating the case.   However, due to a peculiar New Jersey law, any settlement over $50 million will go directly into the state’s general fund and be spendable by Christie on current obligations.  At present, New Jersey is struggling with needed payments for pension obligations as well as numerous other deficiencies which have come about, for example, as a direct result of Christie’s failure to raise gas taxes to pay for transportation fund shortfalls.

The reasons for Christie’s settlement are clear and numerous: first, it is a big political favor for Exxon, which is such a large company that the proposed damages would have represented less than half of an average year’s profits, if they had ever been collected.  Second, it is likely to result in additional political money for Christie’s campaign for president, not just from Exxon, but from all the other oil interests that are lined up on the side of the Republicans.

The claim that Christie hasn’t received any political donations from Exxon since 2009 is specious.  Just last year, when Christie was head of the Republican Governor’s Association, Exxon donated half a million dollars to the association, along with matching funds from many of Exxon’s employees.  Those donations follow long standing precedents but nonetheless represent a clear conflict of interest.  New Jersey is also an unusual state in that the the Attorney General’s Office is not independent of the Governor’s office, making his blatantly political decisions in favor of his friends to relieve their legal obligations absurdly easy.

Now Christie has the effrontery to simply lie in print about the ex-official who blew the whistle on his favors to Exxon.  Why does he think he has a snowball’s chance in hell of being elected president?  Perhaps he doesn’t care about that, or even about his chances for the Republican nomination.  Perhaps his only concern is the size of his campaign war chest and the number of favors he can call in after his term in office runs out.

Read Christie’s excuses at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/06/nyregion/christie-administration-praises-exxon-deal.html

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