CAMDEN, NJ—The state of New Jersey announced today that it has filed eight separate lawsuits across the state that seek to hold polluters responsible for the actions, including one against a former gas station and its owner in Camden and the Puchak Wellfield Superfund site in Pennsauken, which once served drinking water to Camden residents.
Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe made the announcement today in North Camden at the Camden Lutheran Housing, Inc. headquarters. The lawsuits marked a new “environmental justice” initiative designed to support communities that have historically suffered some of the worst environmental harms in the state.
“Environmental justice means that everyone, no matter race, ethnicity, color, national origin, or income, deserves to live and work in a healthy and clean environment,” said Attorney General Grewal. “But too often, the same communities suffer the worst environmental problems over and over again but don’t get the support that they need. Today, in New Jersey, we’re taking an unprecedented step forward in changing that. We’re filing eight lawsuits to protect the environment in these areas. Our first-of-its-kind statewide environmental justice action should make one thing clear to the polluters that have run amok in these communities: Not on our watch. We’re going to make New Jersey a national leader on environmental justice.”
The eight actions filed today encompass a broad range of communities. As the accompanying fact sheet lays out in detail, today’s lawsuits concern sites in Camden, Flemington, Newark (2), Palmyra, Pennsauken, Phillipsburg, and Trenton.
“Cleaner environments promote stronger communities. For too long the residents of urban areas and other communities have not had their voices heard and have had to bear the burden of disproportionate sources of pollution and the consequent health effects,” said DEP Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe. “It is imperative that we take actions such as these to substantively address these issues and restore the confidence of residents and their elected leaders that New Jersey is committed to improving day-to-day life for all New Jersey’s people, especially our most vulnerable populations.”
The suits also include an array of enforcement actions. The lawsuit involving Pennsauken is a Natural Resource Damages [NRD] case—the fourth NRD case the state has filed this year. The lawsuit involves Puchack Wellfield, a series of wells that provided drinking water to Camden residents decades ago. The state alleges that the defendant was responsible for hazardous pollution that resulted in termination of the wells. The State is seeking NRD damages, as well as cleanup and removal costs that have been incurred and will be incurred at the site. The defendant named in the suit is SL Industries, Inc., owner of the Property and successor to prior owners of the Property and operators of the plating facility.
In Camden, the state filed a lawsuit against Monk’s Amoco, a former gas station located along Broadway. In 1984, gasoline seeped into the basement of a neighboring tavern on multiple occasions. After failing to comply to DEP guidelines, the DEP installed a groundwater recovery system that recovered and disposed of roughly 300 gallons of gasoline. Subsequently—between May 1999 and August 2011—DEP excavated a total of seven gasoline underground storage tanks from the property. An auto repair shop continues to operate at the location. The defendants named in the suit are Monk’s Amoco, Inc., and Hooper Monk.
In other cases, the state’s actions seek to force companies to clean up the soil and groundwater contamination for which they’re responsible. In some, the lawsuits seek not only site clean-up by the responsible parties, but also payment of financial penalties because the individuals or companies ignored prior orders to clean up the properties. Another seeks an order directing removal of illegally-dumped solid waste from a property in Trenton. And multiple of these actions seek to recover tax dollars the state had to spend cleaning up polluted properties.
In addition to filing eight legal actions today, Grewal added that his office is restructuring a new unit to bring additional focus to environmental justice issues. The section, to be called the “Environmental Enforcement and Environmental Justice Section,” will repurpose existing resources and hire additional attorneys to bring enforcement actions and promote environmental justice across the state.
Grewal announced that Kevin Jespersen, who previously served in multiple leadership roles in the AG’s Office – including as Executive Assistant Attorney General and Chief Counsel to the Attorney General – will oversee the Section while the office undertakes a nationwide leadership search.
“Today is just the beginning of our environmental justice agenda, and we are going to pursue other polluters who have put the residents of these communities at risk,” Grewal said. “We’re going to run a different kind of environmental enforcement program: one that asks how enforcement cases can promote justice. That’s why we’re hearing from these communities directly, to find out how we can best support them. And that’s why I’m creating an Environmental Enforcement and Environmental Justice Section in my office, something we’ve never had in the Garden State. No matter where you live and no matter your background, you deserve to have a healthy environment.”
Earlier this year, Attorney General Grewal and Commissioner McCabe announced a “new day” for environmental enforcement in New Jersey, and today’s lawsuits build on that effort. In August, the State filed six separate lawsuits to recover damages caused by pollution across New Jersey, including the first three “Natural Resource Damages” (or NRD) cases in a decade. As part of today’s announcement, Attorney General Grewal and Commissioner McCabe vowed to continue this effort, which is likely to include additional lawsuits in the coming months.
“In New Jersey, committing to environmental justice is more than just talk,” said Commissioner McCabe. “It requires legal enforcement and structures that support the principles: that everyone in New Jersey is entitled to communities that support their health, rather than endangering it. We support the Attorney General’s efforts to realign environmental enforcement to address the needs of everyone in our state.”