Oil sheen contained in Talbert Channel near site of last year’s major O.C. pipeline spill in southern New Jersey. ( Seth Wenig )
The $7.1 million settlement in the biggest pipeline-related environmental contamination case in the state could generate significant savings to the state, its taxpayers and the pipeline companies, according to a state Senate committee.
But it could also mean a new headache for Attorney General Christopher Porrino as he faces the prospect of a large-scale environmental lawsuit that could lead to new legal fees and possible costs.
The Senate Finance Committee has a hearing on a bill in Newark on Wednesday to address the potential for cost overruns due to environmental lawsuits, as well as to ensure “there is no financial windfall for any party.”
But in the meantime, the House and Senate committees will have to work out details of how the state will seek to recoup the projected additional costs from the pipeline operators and a company they acquired last year to clean up the oil sheen on the Talbert Channel in Ocean County. The bill would also allow the state to pursue additional legal expenses and fines against the companies if they are found to have acted in bad faith while conducting the cleanup effort and in seeking the settlement.
Sen. Lou Greenwald, a Newark Democrat, and Sen. Joseph Vitale of Fort Lee, a Republican, will address the committee on the bill Wednesday morning to lay out their positions regarding it as well as a separate bill that addresses the environmental violations reported by the Department of Environmental Protection that occurred after the settlement.
The cleanup effort on the 100-foot-deep channel in Talbert Harbor last summer, which lasted several months and involved the U.S. Coast Guard, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and multiple organizations was largely unsuccessful after the pipeline explosion in July 2015 destroyed equipment, spilled more than 50,000 gallons of oil and injured some 16 workers. The spill sent a plume of black, oily water down Lake Ontario and across the state, where it damaged fishing and recreational businesses.
Porrino had taken the lead on the state’s cleanup after the U.S. Coast Guard