SOMERVILLE, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday defended a settlement with Exxon Mobil on a decade-old lawsuit for a tiny fraction of the nearly $9 billion the state had sought for environmental damage, calling it "really good."
The Republican governor, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, said the $225 million settlement is on top of the money the company will have to pay to clean up damage.
"It's actually a really good settlement," Christie said at a town hall meeting in Somerville when an audience member asked about the deal. "They have to fix everything that they polluted up to state standards, and there is no cap on what they have to have to pay."
He later said the decision to settle was up to the attorney general's office, adding: "And I don't interfere with the attorney general."
Democratic lawmakers and environmentalists reacted angrily to the settlement, and a New Jersey legislative committee advanced a resolution Monday calling for the deal to be rejected.
Christie said Tuesday that reporting on the settlement for environmental damage caused by the oil company has not been accurate, and he blamed The New York Times, which first reported the deal last month, for miscasting the story.
The Times stands by its reporting, spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said.
The state issued a news release last week confirming the settlement and saying Exxon Mobil Corp. also was responsible for separate cleanup costs. The state has not detailed what those cleanup costs are.
The litigation goes back to 2004, when New Jersey said the Irving, Texas-based company's refineries in Linden and Bayonne fouled the land and water. The state sought $8.9 billion.
Since then, a judge has ruled that the company was liable for causing a public nuisance. Another judge was expected to rule soon on the amount the company would have to pay the state. But lawyers for both sides asked him to wait because a settlement had been reached.
The deal covers not only the two refineries but also 16 other Exxon Mobil sites around New Jersey plus any environmental damage caused by the company's gasoline stations.
Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that the settlement money from the lawsuit is in addition to any cleanup costs.
"We have already been cleaning up in these sites for about 10 years and are committed under a legal agreement with the state to continue that cleanup until they're satisfied," he told reporters in Lubbock, Texas. "So the lawsuit that's been talked about has nothing to do with cleanup. We're already doing that."
Exxon Mobil has spent about $260 million under Department of Environmental Protection supervision on cleanup at both sites since 1991, company spokesman Todd Spitler said.
The governor's critics say he's giving short shrift to environmental concerns to help fill a budget gap.
"This is a good deal, yeah for Exxon," New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel said in a statement responding to Christie's comments.
"This is outrageous abuse of power by the administration selling out the environment and the tax payers of New Jersey," he added.
Associated Press writer Betsy Blaney contributed to this report from Lubbock, Texas.