Over the last few years money from pollution settlements in New Jersey has vanished like water down a drain. Companies poured out millions of dollars toward cleaning up of environmental damage they caused in the state, but only a few drops have gone toward fixing the problems.
In each case, Governor Chris Christie channeled most of the money into gaping holes in the state budget.
Now the citizens of New Jersey have an opportunity to put a plug in that practice and make sure money from polluters goes toward repairing the natural resources damages in affected communities by voting YES on Question 2 that will appear on the ballot for the Nov. 7 state election.
The question asks:
"Do you approve amending the Constitution to dedicate all moneys collected by the State relating to natural resource damages in cases of contamination of the environment? The moneys would have to be used to repair, restore, replace, or preserve the State’s natural resources. The moneys may also be used to pay legal or other costs incurred by the State in pursuing its claims."
The American Littoral Society is urging a "Yes" vote on this question.
This ballot question was pushed by lawmakers after organizations such as the Littoral Society raised an outcry when most of the money from two large pollution cases ended up being diverted into the state budget instead of being used to restore areas damaged by pollution.
In the first instance, not even 20 percent of more than $300 million from a series of pollution cases involving dioxin contamination of the Passaic River went to communities for restoration work.
Then, in 2015, the state siphoned off all but $50 million of the money from the $225 million natural-resources settlement involving two former refineries and other sites operated by ExxonMobil. That case involved the contamination of hundreds of acres over decades of time, and the oil company had already been judged liable for the damage. New Jersey had been seeking nearly $9 billion to cover restoration of the sites and court costs, but Gov. Christie decided to settle for a tiny fraction of that amount.
The Littoral Society joined efforts, which have been unsuccessful to this point, aimed at preventing both the state settlement with ExxonMobil and diversion of most of the settlement money into the state budget.
We were shocked at the failure of state officials to serve the needs of the land and the people. As we said at the time, there is no way that the comparatively paltry sum proposed to be paid could serve the public’s interest in restoring the damaged environment to a state consistent with the ecological restoration plan developed by the State during the active litigation.
Although efforts to reverse the Christie administration's decisions proved unsuccessful, the state legislature responded in December 2016 by approving placement of a constitutional amendment on the next general election ballot. If approved by voters, that amendment would prevent money from pollution cases ever again being siphoned off for other purposes.
Voters now get to decide if money from pollution damage awards should be dedicated to restoring and protecting New Jersey land and communities. We strongly urge a YES VOTE to prevent both the governor and state legislature from raiding such funds in the future.