It's been quite the legal saga: In 2004, New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection sued Exxon Mobil over what it said was a century's worth of pollution spewed by two refineries. The state alleged that contamination dating as far back as 1870 at the northern Bayonne and Linden sites effectively rendered 1,500 acres unusable. With Exxon's liability subsequently established, the state attorney general's office in November pushed a judge to award the state $8.9 billion in restoration and damages. Last week came the news the case was settled out of court—for $250 million, or about 3 cents on the dollar. Now, the New York Times reports by way of two sources that the "driving force" behind the deal wasn't the attorney general's office that has spent the last decade battling Exxon, but a figure in Gov. Chris Christie's office.
Those sources tell the paper that Christie's chief counsel, Christopher Porrino, led the charge. One of those sources, New Jersey's former DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell, today takes to the pages of the Times with an op-ed that outlines what troubles him about the settlement. He writes that "former colleagues of mine ... have told me [Porrino] inserted himself into the case, elbowed aside the attorney general and career employees who had developed and prosecuted the litigation, and cut the deal favorable to Exxon." How the Times sums up the situation: "Much of the criticism has focused on the lack of a public rationale for why the state would choose to settle a lawsuit that it had invested so much effort and time in trying to win." State Democrats have called the settlement "appalling," with some state senators saying they will try to keep it from being approved. (Read more Chris Christie stories.)