New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration wants Exxon Mobil Corp. to fork over $225 million for a pair of oil refineries that dumped toxic chemicals into New Jersey's soil and water for decades. But the sum is a drop in the bucket compared with the billions of dollars needed to remove pollution and restore nearby wetlands, environmental groups say.
The organizations this week are seeking to intervene in the case between the U.S. oil giant and the state of New Jersey. The Natural Resources Defense Council, which is leading the effort, will ask a state judge Friday to make the organization a party to the litigation. The move would allow NRDC to argue in court for a higher settlement.,,,,
.... At the center of the saga are two massive oil refinery sites: the Bayway refinery in Linden, and another in the town of Bayonne. The facilities, both more than a century old, leaked millions of gallons of oil and 600 different contaminants into the soil during the time Exxon owned the plants, a state judge determined. The pollution covers or is buried under about 1,800 acres of wetlands, forests, meadows and waterways.
Nearly 1 million New Jersey residents live near the refineries in mostly blue-collar neighborhoods. The area used to be a popular spot for fishing, hunting and kayaking, but much of the land and water near the plants is now unusable. Plastic booms still float at the mouths of some creeks to capture the oil and chemicals that continue seeping into the water..... more here
BY JOHN STEELE The Militant July 20, 2015
MONTREAL — Almost two years after the Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, rail disaster, which killed 47 people and destroyed the downtown core of the community of 5,000, the federal government agency Transport Canada has filed criminal charges against locomotive engineer Tom Harding for allegedly violating the Railway Safety Act and the Fisheries Act. Charges were also filed against five officials of the now-bankrupt Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, including CEO Robert Grindrod, as well as against the company itself.
The July 6, 2013, train derailment and explosion put a spotlight on how the rail bosses put profits ahead of safety, especially the company’s insistence on operating with a one-person “crew,” with government agreement.
Harding is already due in court Sept. 8 to set the date for his trial on frame-up charges of 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death levied by Quebec’s crown prosecutor. Those charges could result in life imprisonment. The new charges could bring a $50,000 fine and six months in prison.
Harding is a member of the United Steelworkers union. Train controller and USW member Richard Labrie faces the same charges in Quebec, as does manager of train operations Jean Demaitre. The USW in Quebec has been raising funds to defend the two union members.
Transport Canada says the accused failed to ensure that the train’s hand brakes were properly set. The hand brakes were one of 18 factors that the report of the federal Transportation Safety Board said contributed to the disaster. Others included a “weak safety culture” on the railroad.
The company’s former owner, Edward Burkhardt, has not been charged.
The fact the federal government as a cost-cutting measure allowed the rail company to operate the 72-car crude oil train without a two-person crew was considered but not included as a “factor” in the final published report.
As he had done for years, in keeping with company regulations, Harding parked the train on a grade about seven miles from Lac-Mégantic with the engine running and the air brakes on. He set hand brakes on seven tanker cars and took a cab to a hotel to sleep.
During the night firemen were called to put out a small fire on the lead locomotive. When Harding asked his dispatcher if he should come because of the fire, he was told to go back to sleep because everything was OK. However, when the firemen shut down the engine they unknowingly turned off the air brake system. With no one on board, the train rolled down the grade, picking up speed, and derailed and exploded in downtown Lac-Mégantic.
In addition to the horrendous loss of life and destruction of 40 buildings, the explosion and fire released 1.5 million gallons of crude oil into the lake and contaminated 560,000 tons of soil. The charges under the Fisheries Act stem from the oil spill.
The explosion woke Harding, who rushed to the site, risking his life to help depressurize brakes on some of the cars that had not caught fire so they could be moved. For this reason, many in Lac-Mégantic consider him a hero.
Harding’s lawyer, Thomas Walsh, questioned the timing of the new charges against the engineer, criticizing the federal government for trying to look proactive after years of allowing unsafe railway practices like understaffing. “Now they’re coming out as if they’re taking care of business … by two years later accusing him [Harding] of something he’s already been accused of,” Walsh told the Globe and Mail. “What the hell is the point?”
“I agree there should be justice,” businessman Raymond Lafontaine, who lost his son, two stepdaughters and an employee in the disaster, told the press. But “it feels like we’re still looking for people to blame.” There are people higher up in the company that need to be held accountable, he said.
Meanwhile, Canadian Pacific Railway, which hauled the oil from North Dakota to Montreal before handing it over to Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, is refusing to contribute to a $430 million settlement fund for victims’ families. The Calgary-based company argued in a Quebec court recently that it wasn’t involved. If Canadian Pacific is successful, compensation could be delayed for years.
The Steelworkers and fellow rail workers in Canada and the U.S. are raising defense funds for Harding and Labrie. To contribute in Canada, send checks to Syndicat des Métallos, 565 boulevard Crémazie Est, bureau 5100, Montreal, Quebec H2M 2V8, or go online to www.justice4USWrailworkers.org.
In the United States, checks can be sent to Tom Harding Defense Fund, First Niagara Bank, 25 McClellan Dr., Nassau, NY 12123 or visit www.tomhardingdefensefund.com.