Attorney General Andrew Cuomo To Sue Exxonmobil In Landmark Case To Clean Up Catastrophic Greenpoint Oil Spill And Newtown Creek Contamination

NEW YORK, NY (February 8, 2007)—New York State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo announced today his intent to launch a landmark legal action against the ExxonMobil Corporation, as well as four other companies, to force the cleanup of a 17-million-gallon oil spill in Greenpoint, and to restore Newtown Creek, the contaminated waterway separating Queens from Brooklyn.

The Attorney General’s office today is sending ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, Keyspan, and Phelps Dodge Notices of Intent to Sue under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), charging the companies with creating an “imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment” in Newtown Creek and portions of the adjacent shoreline. In addition, Notices of Intent to Sue were also sent to ExxonMobil and Chevron for violating the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) by continuing to discharge pollutants into Newtown Creek without a permit.

“This is one of the worst environmental disasters in the nation, larger than the Exxon Valdez and slower in the cleanup. ExxonMobil must and will be held accountable,” said Cuomo. “The toxic footprint of ExxonMobil is found all over this area. It is ExxonMobil’s oil that remains under the homes and businesses. And it is ExxonMobil that has dragged its feet and done as little as possible to address the dangers that it created.”

Cuomo continued, “We also intend to sue BP, Chevron, Keyspan, and Phelps Dodge because they have contributed significantly to the contamination of the creek and we intend to hold them responsible for the cleanup and restoration of the creek.”

Newtown Creek is a 3.5-mile-long waterway that separates Queens and Brooklyn and flows into the East River. Spills from ExxonMobil’s refinery and storage operations seeped into the ground creating a plume of oil floating on top of the groundwater. Some of the oil dissolved in the groundwater and contaminated surrounding soil. It is estimated that at one time at least 17 million gallons of oil were present underneath more than 100 acres of Greenpoint, Brooklyn and now it is present underneath approximately 55 acres. As a comparison, the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons in Alaska in 1989. In 1978, oil from ExxonMobil’s Greenpoint spill was discovered seeping into Newtown Creek and ExxonMobil’s efforts to clean up the spill have been minimal.

Attorney General Cuomo emphasized that ExxonMobil is the prime target in the litigation.

“ExxonMobil has proven itself far less than a model corporate citizen, placing its greed for windfall profits over public safety and the well-being of the environment,” said Cuomo.

Governor Eliot Spitzer said, “This is an important day for the people of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It is imperative that ExxonMobil and the other companies responsible for this pollution be held fully accountable. I congratulate Attorney General Cuomo for taking this legal action that will go a long way in addressing one of the most serious urban environmental problems in the nation.”

Senator Charles Schumer said, “Despite years of record-breaking profits, ExxonMobil has dragged its feet when it comes to tackling their toxic mess in north Brooklyn. More pressure is needed to compel them to act to protect the health and well-being of Brooklyn residents, and I hope this legal action by Attorney General Cuomo will do just that.”

Christine Holowacz, Co-Chair of Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks and Planning (GWAPP), said, “I’ve lived in Greenpoint with Exxon’s oil since the early 1970s. I’m very happy with the aggressive action that the Attorney General is taking to clean up the oil, and groundwater, and soils. And this is the first time that someone is actually going to clean up Newtown Creek for the community.”

Rep. Anthony Weiner said, “While ExxonMobil and other polluters lag in their cleanup responsibilities, the health and safety of Newtown Creek's residents hang in the balance. Hundreds of homes and businesses are affected by this terrible oil spill. The public has the right to know what effects air, water, and soil toxins are having on our community and local environment.”

Rep. Nydia Velázquez said, "I commend the actions being taken by Attorney General Cuomo to protect victims of the Newtown Creek oil spill. The most disheartening thing about Exxon's careless irresponsibility is that this was not a natural disaster. It's only just that Exxon, which caused this mess, is responsible for cleaning it up and restoring real quality of life to the entire Greenpoint community."

State Assemblyman Joseph Lentol said, “It is high time that the State forces ExxonMobil to use some of their record-breaking profits to compensate the environment and the community that deserves justice.”

State Senator Martin Dilan said, “The time has come to take fierce action against the oil giants who for so long have taken advantage of the vulnerable residents of Greenpoint by polluting their environment with gallons of crude oil. I recently joined Riverkeeper and my colleagues in government in a new legal action against ExxonMobil. Thus, I am pleased that our newly elected Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, has also decided to take a strong stand in this case.”

State Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez said, “ExxonMobil has consistently avoided its obligations under State and federal environmental law. Greenpoint deserves better treatment from Big Oil, and I am pleased that the Attorney General has decided to stand up for the residents of Greenpoint. We expect full compliance and if it doesn’t come voluntarily, I will work along side the Attorney General and other elected officials to insist that Newtown Creek is cleaned up.”

“Brooklyn commends Attorney General Cuomo for recognizing that the complete cleanup of Newtown Creek is nothing short of a top priority for the health and welfare of Brooklynites and all New Yorkers,” said Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. “That Brooklyn is home to the most polluted waterway in North America should be common knowledge among New Yorkers, and I am confident that today's action by the attorney general will be a critical step toward making Newtown Creek a success story instead of a punchline. ExxonMobil: the time has come to clean up this mess!”

“ExxonMobil's days of treating Greenpoint like a dumping ground are numbered," said Riverkeeper President Alex Matthiessen. “Riverkeeper applauds Attorney General Cuomo for initiating this legal action. We look forward to working with the State to bring these companies to justice." Marcia Bystryn, the Executive Director of the New York League of Conservation Voters, said, “Today’s action represents a great step forward in the fight against polluters who endanger our health and destroy our environment. I am pleased to see that Attorney General Cuomo is off to such a terrific start in working to clean up New York State.”

Several oil companies, including Chevron and BP, operated storage facilities along the creek that released oil into the ground. Other industries have contributed to the ongoing destruction of the creek, including Phelps Dodge, which operated a copper smelting plant on the north bank near the Kosciuszko Bridge. Heavy metals, including cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, and mercury, and petroleum-related hydrocarbons, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been found on the site.

Predecessors to Keyspan operated several manufactured gas plant (MGP) facilities along the waterway that also have contaminated creek sediments. Preliminary investigations have disclosed a wide variety of contaminants from these facilities, including metals, PCBs, petroleum products, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chlorinated solvents, semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs), and ferro-ferric cyanide complexes.

The suit will seek scientific testing and investigations to determine the full scope of the environmental contamination, increased recovery of underground oil, cleanup of contaminated groundwater and soil, restoration of Newtown Creek, and damages for the injuries to the affected natural resources. The suit will also seek substantial financial penalties.

The Notices of Intent to Sue are required under the RCRA and CWA. Under RCRA, the violator has 90 days to come into compliance to avoid a lawsuit, and under the CWA the violator has 60 days to come into compliance. After the notice periods have expired, the State intends to file suit if the violations have not been corrected. In addition to the RCRA and CWA claims, the State will also likely assert legal claims under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, also known as Superfund), the federal Oil Pollution Act, the State’s Navigation Law, and the State’s Environmental Conservation Law, and assert claims of public nuisance in the litigation.

The case is being handled in the Office of the Attorney General by Assistant Attorneys General Robert Emmet Hernan and William E. Dornbos and Environmental Scientist Jodi Feld, under the supervision of Eugene Leff and Gordon J. Johnson, Deputy Bureau Chief of the Environmental Protection Bureau.

Copies of the Notices of Intent to Sue are attached to this press release.

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