Sometime after March 22, 2023, a federal court will decide whether to approve a $150 million settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice and 85 companies that EPA alleges are responsible for polluting the Passaic River.
Many New Jerseyans know about the decades-long effort to clean up the river, a federal Superfund site that contains contaminants that have made the river virtually unusable except for industrial purposes. What is less known is that the U.S. government is about to finalize a deal that will delay the river’s cleanup even further and potentially force New Jersey taxpayers and communities to bear a significant share of its cost.
This doesn’t make sense when you consider:
- EPA says the river was used as an industrial dumping ground for more than 150 years and up until the 1970s.
- EPA says more than 100 companies operated on the river during that time.
- EPA has identified 8 chemicals of concern that need to be addressed.
- EPA estimates it will cost $1.82 billion to implement its approach to cleaning up the river.
- EPA is letting 85 companies who EPA recognizes are responsible for discharging one or more of these chemicals into the river off the hook for a total of $150 million, meaning the settlement lets these 85 companies off the hook for a mere 8 cents of every dollar.
- EPA also wants to give “get-out-of-court-free cards” to these 85 companies, prohibiting entities not involved in the settlement from suing them to recover their fair share of the cleanup costs.
- The Settlement Agreement gives EPA unreviewable discretion to transfer the entire $150 million settlement payment to the Superfund. Yet the settlement agreement imposes no requirement on any polluter to perform actual cleanup work and no obligation on EPA to use the funds for cleanup work, rather than its own administrative and oversight costs.
And there is more:
- EPA’s settlement leaves New Jersey taxpayers holding the bag for a large share of the $1.82 billion cleanup.
- As public concern grows about EPA’s settlement, EPA is belatedly seeking to restart a fraction of the work on the river that my company, OxyChem, offered to do more than a year ago. Don’t be fooled. EPA is still insisting on releasing the 85 settling polluters from paying their fair share of remediation costs.
Any amount these parties don’t pay for their own pollution of the river will fall onto a handful of companies and New Jersey communities and entities, like the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission and other municipal sewer entities that transported the settling parties’ waste.
It’s a great deal for these companies, but a lousy deal for New Jersey.
Does this make sense? EPA is the agency that is supposed to be cleaning the river, not taking New Jersey residents to the cleaners.
The time to act is now. New Jersey has a lot to lose because it has the most Superfund sites in the United States. That is why I encourage anyone who cares about this potential settlement to visit PassaicRiverCleanup.com for more information. This is a web site OxyChem created to explain what the EPA is doing, our view on why it matters, and what you can do to make your voice heard.
Neil Ackerman is president of OxyChem.