McKeon & Zwicker Bill to Limit Use of Environmental Settlement Funds Gains Assembly Panel Approval

Bill Stems From Christie Administration's Decision To Settle With Exxon For $225 Million Despite Asking For $8.9 Billion In Damages

Legislation sponsored by Assemblymen John F. McKeon and Andrew Zwicker to ensure that money received as part of an environmental violation lawsuit is used to fix the damage created by the infraction gained approval from an Assembly panel on Monday.

The bill is in response to Gov. Christie's decision last year to settle with Exxon Mobil for a fraction of what the state asked for in damages for contamination and loss of use of more than 1,500 acres of wetlands, marshes, meadows and waters in northern New Jersey. The decision has been chastised and many critics have accused the governor of quietly settling to use the money to balance the budget.

"Current law allows the administration to use most of the Exxon settlement money to balance the budget. Residents have been terribly shortchanged by this settlement. Using these funds as a short-term budget fix adds insult to injury," said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). "This bill amends the law so that the bulk of money received from environmental lawsuits is reserved for damage restoration."

"Money from environmental penalties should go toward environmental cleanups," said Zwicker (D-Somerset/Mercer/Hunterdon/Middlesex). "This is a simple concept designed to protect residents." 

The bill (A-2844) would amend the state budget to provide that one-half of all amounts of environmental lawsuit recoveries received by the state, in excess of $50 million, is deposited into the Hazardous Discharge Site Cleanup Fund and are appropriated for the direct and indirect costs of remediation, restoration and clean up.

These appropriated funds also would be available to cover consulting, expert, and legal service expenses incurred in pursuing claims for damages and grants to local governments and nonprofit organizations to further implement restoration activities of the Office of Natural Resource Restoration in the Department of Environmental Protection. Without the enactment of this bill, all amounts of natural resource recoveries and associated damages recovered by the state in excess of $50 million during the fiscal year would be deposited in the State General Fund as general state revenue.

The bill was approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

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