Source - Asbury Park Press

The state Assembly voted Thursday, mostly along party lines, to go on record against Gov. Chris Christie’s administration’s controversial settlement of an envrionmental damages lawsuit against ExxonMobil.

The resolution adopted by the Assembly doesn’t scuttle the $225 million agreement or have any weight beyond urging the Superior Court judge who will ultimately decide whether to approve the settlement to reject it because it’s inadequate and “shocks the conscience.”

Experts hired by the state during the decade-long litigation had estimated the state should pursue $2.6 billion to restore the sites of the oil refineries and related operations in Bayonne and the Bayway site in Linden and $6.3 billion for compensatory damages. ExxonMobil fought the case and said those estimates were developed with faulty methodology.

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen, expressed concern the Legislature going forward will involve itself in more active lawsuits. She also said appeals in the case could go on for another 10 years and end with the state getting nothing, if no settlement is struck.

“Endorsing this resolution gives me grave concern that we’re setting a precedent for any settlement, second-guessing any sort of litigation matter that our Attorney General’s Office handles and in doing so that we’re potentially improperly attempting to influence a court as legislators to find in some sort of fashion on an active matter that we have not been privy to for approximately 10 years,” Schepisi said.

The resolution passed by a vote of 45-16, with nine voting to abstain. Forty-one votes are needed for passage.

All nine votes to abstain were cast by Republicans: Christopher Brown, R-Burlington; Caroline Casagrande, R-Monmouth; Ronald Dancer, R-Ocean; John DiMaio, R-Warren; Amy Handlin, R-Monmouth; Gregory McGuckin, R-Ocean; Erik Peterson, R-Hunterdon; Maria Rodriguez-Gregg, R-Burlington; and Jay Webber R-Morris.

All of the votes against the resolution were made by Republicans.

The Department of Environmental Protection is taking public comments on the settlement until June 5. After the state formally responds to the comments, the settlement can be submitted to Superior Court Judge Michael Hogan, who had heard the case and was believed to be close to a decision when the state and Exxon instead settled the case. The agreement would require Hogan’s approval.