N.J. Alleges Natural Resource Damage in 120 Suits Against Businesses

July 2, 2007

The state is suing more than a hundred companies, including manufacturers and marketers of a widely used gasoline additive, saying they harmed natural resources such as groundwater, environmental officials said.

“We are committed to holding accountable those polluters whose actions have sullied our rivers, land and groundwater, diminishing public enjoyment of these natural resources,” said Lisa Jackson, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection. “We believe that we have a duty to pursue them and to try to get recovery.”

In approximately 120 lawsuits, known as natural resource damage claims, the DEP is going after companies that were involved in spills or other types of pollution that damaged natural resources.

The damages are separate from fines or cleanup costs the companies may have paid, and are intended to compensate the public for the loss of a resource, said Larry Hajna, a DEP spokesman.

Jackson would not say exactly how much the state is seeking but said the total could be in the “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The money is then used by the DEP for environmental restoration projects, often in the same area where the pollution occurred.

One of the lawsuits specifically targets a long list of oil-related companies, including ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips, connected to the use and sale of methyl tertiary butyl ether or MTBE, an additive commonly used in gasoline.

In the lawsuit, the state says that MTBE poses a “serious threat to waters throughout the State.” The lawsuit goes on to say that the gasoline additive “can render drinking water foul, putrid and unfit for human consumption.”

The lawsuits were filed late Friday afternoon with courts around the state where the incidents occurred. In many of the cases the state was facing a Saturday deadline before the statute of limitations ran out, said Hajna.

Since 1994 when the Natural Resource Damage program began, the DEP said it has collected $51 million from companies in compensation for pollution from 1,500 contaminated sites and oil spills. The money has gone to preserve approximately 6,000 acres of open space.


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