TRENTON – Legislation that would improve transparency in state settlements involving environmental contamination by lengthening the required public comment period was signed into law today. 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 law (S-2919) increases 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 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.
“The damage from environmental contamination can last for generations, and the public deserves ample opportunity to engage in the public dialogue on pending settlements that impact their communities,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “This extension to 60 days provides greater transparency and responsible stewardship of New Jersey’s public resources in order to protect our valuable environment for the residents of our state.”
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 law ensures that, going forward, the public will have at least 60 days to comment on complex Spill Act settlements.
The law takes effect immediately.