NJ puts polluters on notice: Files 6 lawsuits, says more coming
NEWARK — Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration filed a half-dozen environmental lawsuits Wednesday, seeking damages and the recovery of cleanup costs for pollution of land and water in the Pohatcong Valley, Newark, the Port Reading and Fords sections of Woodbridge, and Atlantic City.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the actions mark the biggest single-day environmental enforcement effort in New Jersey in at least 10 years. It could be many years before the state recovers any money. It didn’t attach a financial estimate to its lawsuits.
“While the facts of each of these cases may be different, all six suits have something in common,” Grewal said. “They show that today is a new day for environmental enforcement in New Jersey.”
Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe said the natural resource damages cases are “long overdue” and that she was surprised to learn when taking office in January that New Jersey hadn’t filed any since 2008, including the entire tenure of Gov. Chris Christie.
“All of our communities deserve to have the environment they live in protected, to enable them to live healthy and productive lives. And we will use the full extent of our legal authority to make sure that happens,” McCabe said.
Three of the six lawsuits are NRD cases, which McCabe said is a primary mechanism for restoring polluted sites. The other three are “cost recovery cases” in which the state seeks to recover taxpayer money already spent to address contamination.
“Message: If you make a mess, clean it up. Or we will be sure that you do and pay for it,” McCabe said.
Grewal said more lawsuits are in the pipeline to be announced in the months ahead. He said he is working to rebuild his office’s environmental group, which was much more robust 10 years ago.
“Here’s what we promise to the residents of this state: We are going to hold polluters in New Jersey accountable – no matter how big you are, no matter how powerful you are, no matter how long you’ve been getting away with it,” Grewal said.
The sites covered by the lawsuits include:
- The Pohatcong Valley Superfund Site in Warren County, which has a stretch of groundwater contamination up to 9 miles long. The valley sits atop a drinking water aquifer and encompasses several towns. The damage dates to the mid-20th century and a former can manufacturing plant.
- The former location of Ronson Metals Corp., which was a cigarette lighter manufacturing facility in Newark’s Ironbound district. Residential homes have since been built on the site. The state installed vapor intrusion mitigation technology to keep hazardous substances from entering the homes.
- The former site of Ruggiero Seafood Inc., another manufacturing facility in the Ironbound, where a school was recently built. The site was remediated by the state, and the lawsuit is designed to recover the millions of dollars spent on that cleanup.
- The former Hess petroleum refinery opened 60 years ago in the Port Reading section of Woodbridge, which is now owned by Buckeye Partners and used to store and process crude oil and refined petroleum products.
- A former retail Mobil gas station that was converted to an auto-repair service business in the Fords section of Woodbridge.
- The former site of manufactured gas plant, now owned by Deull Fuel Company, near the Beach Thorofare waterway in Atlantic City.