Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration plans to take on a number of companies in court over properties they allegedly left toxic by not cleaning up properly or allowing the toxins to spread outside of their properties.
“Today, we are demanding our money back from the parties who are responsible,” state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said at a press conference in Newark, choosing the location because it was near one of the targeted sites.
The main purpose of the press conference was so the attorney general could tell the public that the state intends to go forward with six lawsuits related to environmental damage from companies in Newark, Atlantic City and elsewhere in the state, with half of them being considered “natural resource damages” lawsuits.
According to state officials, the state government hasn’t attempted any natural resource damages claims in about a decade, making the attorney general’s announcement a particularly notable one.
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe was surprised when she found out that it had been so long since the state attempted any action.
The main reason for the lack of action has been a result of two terms of Gov. Chris Christie, whose administration didn’t express any big desires to work with environmentalists. His decision to settle with Exxon Mobil for pennies on the dollar drew widespread scorn from environmentalists, who now hope the new administration will better help their agenda.
Their optimism may be a little cautious though, especially after Murphy didn’t seem too bothered by the court upholding the settlement, and he used some of the money meant for environmental cleanup to help balance the state’s budget.
New Jersey voters responded by taking matters into their own hands and passing a ballot question that ensures the state Constitution guarantees that cleanup money will be used only for cleanup purposes.
In Atlantic City, Grewal and McCabe let the public know they should expect more environmental action, including similar lawsuits expected to come before the end of the year.
“If you make a mess, clean it up,” McCabe said. “And if you don’t, we’ll make sure you do and that you pay for it.”
Greg Remaud, an environmentalist with the NY/NJ Baykeeper, said the lawsuits send a message to polluters that they can’t get away with pollution anymore.
“What you’ll see from this action, I suspect, is that a lot of other companies that are in violation will come into compliance now,” Remaud said.
Jeff Tittel, the director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, was also pleased but knows that with hundreds of sites in the state needing cleanup, the six lawsuits are only a small but important start.
“Putting some force back in enforcement is critical because it acts as a deterrent,” Tittel said.
By: Jaye Jimenez
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