Opinion: Vote ‘yes’ on Ballot Qestion 2 to protect environmental settlement funds

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new jersey environment news, pollution, oil refinery

NJ SIERRA CLUB – On November 7th, the Sierra Club encourages NJ citizens to vote “yes” on Ballot Question 2 to dedicate environmental settlement funds to environmental clean-ups. This will block future administrations from diverting money meant for repairing, preserving, or restoring natural resources. In New Jersey, these resources are held in the public trust. If you spill chemicals and destroy natural resources, you not only have to clean-up your mess but also compensate the public for their loss. Governor Christie has turned environmental settlements into his personal slush fund to plug budget holes.

“This money should be going to clean up polluted sites and help communities that have been affected by the contamination. It should be going to restoring wetlands, cleaning up streams, planting trees, rebuilding parks, protecting our drinking water, and other issues that arise after a community has been devastated by toxic contamination,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We’re rushing to get this passed on the November ballot because Governor Christie is trying to steal the settlement money from recent settlements against companies like Shell and Sunoco.”

Under the New Jersey Spill Act, if you spill chemicals and destroy natural resources, you not only have to clean-up the mess but also compensate the public for loss of use. New Jersey has a public trust doctrine that means natural resources belong to all of us.

Constitutional dedication of funds received by the state in natural resource damage litigation is critical given the Christie administration’s track record and the language in the current FY2016 budget that would allow up to $175 million to be diverted from the Exxon settlement to the General Fund. The budget allows Governor Christie to transfer any money from the Exxon settlement agreement over $50 million to the state General Fund under the currently proposed FY2016 budget language. Most of the remaining $50 million will go to lawyer fees, leaving almost nothing for the people who have been affected by the pollution. He has done this in the past, taking $140 million from the Passaic River cleanup litigation in the current budget.

“The Exxon Settlement is the biggest corporate giveaway in state history and would allow Exxon to get away with over a hundred years of contamination at 18 sites and 800 gas stations. Wetlands, groundwater, waterways, and fisheries belong to the people of New Jersey and are held in the public trust. Polluters should be held responsible to pay for the damages to natural resources and the money must go where it is intended,” said Jeff Tittel.

“We hope everyone comes out on November 7th and votes YES on Ballot Question #2 to protect these funds and make sure polluters pay to clean up their messes,” Tittel said.

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