TRENTON – Legislation that would improve transparency in state settlements involving environmental contamination by lengthening the required public comment period was approved today by the Senate. The bill stems from the recent controversial ExxonMobil settlement, in which the current administration not only accepted significantly less compensation in natural resource damage liability than originally sought, but also absolved ExxonMobil of damage liability at sites that were not part of the original suit and have not been evaluated to determine the amount of damage.
Sponsored by Senator Linda Greenstein, the bill (S-2919) would increase the timeframe for public notice that the DEP must provide prior to agreeing to an administrative or judicially-approved settlement under the “Spill Compensation and Control Act” from the current requirement of 30 days to at least 60 days. This notice is to be published in the New Jersey Register and on the department’s website and is to include the name of the case, the names of the parties to the settlement, the location of the property on which the discharge occurred, and a summary of the terms of the settlement, including the amount of any monetary payments made or to be made.
“Extending the public comment period on pending contamination settlements to 60 days allows greater opportunity for New Jersey residents to become actively involved in the public dialogue on matters that directly affect their communities,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “The extended period also provides greater transparency in the process and helps to ensure responsible stewardship of public resources.”
While the DEP decided to allow for a 60-day public comment period for the ExxonMobil settlement, the statute only requires a 30-day period. The legislation would ensure that, going forward, the public would have at least 60 days to comment on complex Spill Act settlements.
The bill, S-2919, was approved by the Senate with a vote of 38-0. It now heads to the Governor’s desk for consideration.