New Christie scandal might be the biggest

While Gov. Chris Christie was busy discussing giving up the New York Times for lent at the CPAC conference and visiting California, the New York Times reported that his state will settle an environmental dispute with ExxonMobil for $250 million out of the proposed $9 billion. For those of you keeping count, that amounts to almost four percent of what the state wanted. The people of New Jersey got more screwed than the owners of the ill-fated Revel Casino.

The Christie administration joined a decade-long battle with the checkered oil mega-conglomerate upon assuming office.

The lawsuits, filed by the State Department of Environmental Protection in 2004, had been litigated by the administrations of four New Jersey governors, finally advancing last year to trial. By then, Exxon’s liability was no longer in dispute; the only issue was how much it would pay in damages.

The stakes were high, given the enormous cost the state’s experts had placed on restoring and replacing the resources damaged by decades of oil refining and other petrochemical operations, as well as of the public’s loss of use of the land.

As the judge prepared to release a verdict as to how much Exxon would owe, the Christie administration, out of nowhere, petitioned the court twice to wait, and the state told the judge a week ago that the state settled with Exxon. While no records show Exxon contributing to Christie financially, Exxon did contribute $500,000 last May to the Republican Governors Association that Christie chaired last year. The story doesn’t add up, but here’s where the dots start connecting.

Christie’s administration slipped a provision into the budget that requires the state to use a minimum of $50 million from each settlement for purposes of cleaning up the respective contaminated sites. Anything else can legally be diverted by the administration into general funds, which can then be used for anything. The short-term nature of the provision provides an incentive to settle as many environmental cases as quickly as possible.

With New Jersey lagging in recovery and its credit ratings downgrading, a governor could use those funds to create short-term budget stopgaps. Then, he can give his State of the State address or run a campaign advertisement in which he boasts his balanced budget, something that’s his job as it’s New Jersey law to have a balanced budget. A balanced budget doesn’t necessarily mean an improving state and state economy.

After a judge ruled in 2011 that Occidental Chemical Corporation was liable for cleanup costs in the lower Passaic River, the judge needed to decide what the fines should be. As the judge prepared to release his decision last October, in which the state sought $1-4 billion, the administration told the judge to wait. One day, the administration announced a settlement for $355 million. Christie called the original guilty verdict an important victory for taxpayers.

Environmentalists see red right now. Jeffrey Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club said, “It’s a two-fer: reduced settlements help the oil companies before Christie’s presidential campaign, and Christie can quickly get more money for the record amounts of corporate subsidies he is handing out.” To dig even further, law firm Arch & Greiner represented both Exxon and Occidental. The firm has major ties to the administration, like representing the attorney general’s office in other matters and accepting $1.1 million in payments from New Jersey agencies. As International Business Times reports:

According to the firm’s website, an Archer & Greiner partner was a member of Christie’s transition team and was appointed to serve on the board of the New Jersey Economic Development Agency, which hands out state subsidies to business. The firm is also designated as a bond counsel for the agency. Another executive at the firm’s public affairs affiliate, Richard Mroz, was appointed by Christie to head the state’s Board of Public Utilities. Mroz, who headed Archer & Greiner’s lobbying subsidiary, is a longtime friend of Christie’s and was appointed to Christie’s ethics panel. He has also made substantial campaign donations to state Republicans.

Christie’s commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, Lori Grifa, was hired by Greiner’s government relations unit weeks before the ExxonMobil settlement was made public. According to Archer Public Affairs’ website, she also served in the New Jersey Attorney General’s office from 2002 to 2003 under David Samson, who was appointed by Christie to chair the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and whose former law partner served as attorney general under Christie.

Archer and Greiner made $30,000 worth of contributions to the Christie-led Republican Governors Association since 2013, according to data from PoliticalMoneyLine.com. Its clients ExxonMobil and Occidental donated $2 million to the RGA since 2009.

This scandal goes beyond a blatant disregard for the environment, people, and other living creatures harmed. It demonstrates the opinion the administration and many large companies have of the people. They think they can get away with a backroom “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours and who cares about everyone else” policy, but the people ultimately have the loudest voices. As a citizen of New Jersey myself, the buck stops here. The administration and these companies think they can walk all over the citizens, so if it’s a fight they want, it’s a fight they’re gonna get.

Residents can voice their opinions during a public hearing period set to begin in a few weeks. This action sets a precedent for corporate and political interests to continue walking all over the electorate. They’ll have to deal with a hellish New Jersey fury led by Bruce Springsteen, and yes Christie, your lifelong hero despises you. Doesn’t feel so great to see someone you care about and trust stomp all over you, does it?

 

[New York Times] [IB Times] [Newjerseynewsroom.com] [Photo courtesy Lucas Jackson/Reuters]

19 Comments

  1. Lisa DiGi

    I wish someone would look into the corruption behind.Christie’s link to Pearson and the push to use the Common Core curriculum with its high stakes testing (PARCC) and its data mining.

    1. Jarett

      You realize common core is president Obama’s policy, correct? It was part of his race to top initiative and the administration doled out extra funding to the states who were early and enthusiastic adopters during his first term. I hate Christie and Obama, but facts are important.

  2. Joe Murgittroyd

    The money he left on the table with that settlement could have repaired the states pension systems, fixed the bridges, and lord knows what else. Fact is he doesn’t expect to be supported by NJ in a presidential bid so to hell with us. He’d rather be the oil companies chubby little buddy.

    1. Ina Molinari

      I totally agree. I do not believe most politicians really care about those they serve. It is all about deals, how they can get money to support their wants and desires and make it publicly look like they are solving a problem by throwing a bone to the people with pc lingo…I do not care for either party at the moment….Trying to find a Mythical Creature called Honesty…Watch House of Cards on Netflix…It is our Reality…

  3. Julie Hamm

    keep digging! You will find mud and dirt on his hands!!! He’s as dirty as the day is long!! All he cares about is his political advancement. I’m glad people are seeing him for what he truly is. All I want for him is to run out of this state.

  4. Michael Rosenthal
    Michael Rosenthal

    Christie and his administration wanted a natural gas company to be allowed to run a pipeline through the protected Pinelands. After the commission didn’t vote yes, some commission members who stood up to political pressure and said no were ousted out of nowhere. Appeals are being filed at the same time. What’s the point of having protected lands if you’re just going to completely ignore the clause that protects the land based on when it’s convenient to Christie and gas? The Pinelands is home to plenty of people whose voiced are quiet along with organisms that can’t be found anywhere else in the country. It holds 17 trillion gallons of very fresh underground water. The patterns are forming to show his true colors, a true bully using cheap budget balancing tricks while showing a blatant disregard for the environment and human decency. New Jersey’s a beautiful place, but so many people only associate it with the polluted north Jersey portion of the Turnpike. If Christie wants to keep giving oil and gas an inch, maybe that will be how the rest of the state looks one day.

    1. Michael Rosenthal
      Michael Rosenthal

      Also forgot to mention that he twice vetoed bipartisan legislation to ban fracking waste in New Jersey, believing it would be unconstitutional anyway for discriminating against certain states. Sounds a bit hypocritical considering he has no problem with blatantly disregarding the law that says only projects that are directly for the Pinelands can be approved; that’s how protection works. If someone pays the FBI enough money, do they make an exception by revealing witness protection information? Hopefully my more in-depth article about these issues posts soon. Any disaster in the Pinelands, and accidents do happen, would be devastating and heartbreaking.

  5. John Anderson
    John Anderson

    We just received a press release from NJ Senator Raymond Lesniak regarding this matter. Here are some tid bits:

    Elizabeth – Reacting to a reported settlement by the Christie Administration with Exxon Mobil that would allow the oil company to pay only $250 million for $8.9 billion in environmental damage, Senator Raymond Lesniak vowed to challenge the settlement “every step of the way until the state gets just compensation for the damage done by the company’s Bayway and Bayonne refineries to more than 1,500 acres of wetlands, meadows and waterways destroyed or damaged”

    “I grew up under that giant Exxon sign in the Bayway section of Elizabeth and feel personally offended at this weak effort by the Christie Administration in securing fair compensation for the extensive contamination admittedly done by Exxon Mobile to our environment,” said Senator Lesniak. “They are settling for three cents on the dollar in a case where Exxon’s responsibility has already been established. This is a grossly inadequate amount of compensation that lets the mega oil company off the hook.”

    ….

    Senator Lesniak said that the agreement can be overturned if it is fraudulent, arbitrary or capricious and that this settlement “certainly appears to be arbitrary and capricious, to say the least.”

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  7. Philip Bodner

    This man’s known actions have officially crossed over to criminal neglect. He and his corrupt dealings will reverberate for years to come and spawn the negative outcomes for our State that any Governor elected twice should be working against.
    This one issue of short selling the State’s interests in regard to a polluter’s obligation to finance a long over due clean-up stinks to high heaven. He is basically taking out a payday loan for us here in NJ to make himself look financially sound when his budget is reviewed..
    Please resign your office Mr. Christie and run for President..Show everyone just how utterly confused and stupid you apparently can be.

  8. NJNurse

    Another hit piece to knock him out of the presidential race. Is this from Hillary? That is where the last one came from. I will have to research this to find out how true it is and BTW I truly believe if you dig into every single politician you will find the same stuff going on, or someone can made it look like it is going on. I do not trust anything when the Washington crowd gets into it and you better believe one or more are behind this. Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t, and probably never will find out what the real truth is. I refuse to bash him or anyone else for that matter. If he did it then, yes, he should be called to the carpet but if it’s just another hit piece then someone should call the Washington hit man or women on it. Research, research, research is the name of this game politicians make us do. They are very cleaver. And at this point in our political world I would like to know where this writer has gotten their information from. For instance, how would this writer know how much money the judge was going to name? I’m doubtful the writer just called up the judge and he/she gave out the information. I just want to know where all the info came from before I believe it or not. Remember, this is the time the sleazy politicians knock each other over the head with this garbage to get them out of the race and this is a big race and haven’t we seen some of the nastiest meanest lies in the last 6 years then ever in history? I think so, and hasn’t our country dropped to an all time low or classless state? It’s time to put dignity back into our country and stop bashing others because you read an article that has no references as to where they got all their information.

  9. Sally Simon

    Stop the conspiracy theories! Court cases negotiate continually even through the trial. There is no surprise going on here! The number is low compared to the law suit but the reality is that the settlement number is not far off at all where the state thought it would be more than a year ago. There is no jury in the case, the AG’s office decision years ago- a trial with jury would likely have been more favorable, as the state was pursuing a very arrogant Exxon. The real scandal is the budget language. Under the federal law regarding natural resource damages, the money must be spent on restoration. If i were the federal government, who is now barred from pursuing damages (as it would kind of like double jeopardy) i would be really angry as these damages are federal and state resources and Christie is planning to take all the money for something other than restoration of the resources. So i folks are upset about this, the real fast one is the budget language not the details of the settlement or the circumstances of it.

  10. seth

    we treat the oil companies as villians, while we depend on their daily efforts to produce oil.

    ignorance is bliss.

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