Home > Uncategorized > NJ Gov. Murphy’s DEP Commissioner Was A Corporate Hired Gun Who Crippled DEP’s Natural Resource Damage Program

NJ Gov. Murphy’s DEP Commissioner Was A Corporate Hired Gun Who Crippled DEP’s Natural Resource Damage Program

LaTourette Represented Essex Chemical In Key Appellate Court Precedent That Struck Down DEP NRD

NJ Gov. Murphy issued a highly misleading press release in support of his nomination of Shawn Latourette as DEP Commissioner. As I wrote last week:

Gov. Murphy’s press release announcing the nomination misleadingly portrays LaTourette as a public interest champion and fails to mention the fact that he was a corporate lawyer and represented some of NJ’s biggest corporate polluters, including the controversial LNG export facility.

But Mr. Latourette’s record is even worse than I realized.

The facts are that Mr. LaTourette is no public advocate – instead his career illustrates the damage a corporate hired gun can do.

We previously exposed the fact that LaTourette was the lawyer for the controversial Fortress Energy LNG export plant.

But we had not realized that Mr. LaTourette was a lawyer that helped gut the DEP’s Natural Resource Damage (NRD) program – the program he now presides over and has failed to reform – allowing corporate polluters to dodge billions of dollars in NRD liability.

For over 15 years, I’ve followed and have written multiple posts about the DEP’s NRD program.  I exposed why it fails and allows polluters to pay just pennies on the dollar for the destruction of NJ’s natural resources, including critical groundwater drinking water supplies.

I even petitioned the Christie Administration State Comptroller to investigate the DEP’s NRD program, see:

One of the DEP NRD failures I cited in that petition was the Essex Chemical case.

I even wrote about the Essex Chemical case in response to the Appellate Court’s decision, see:

The core issue is DEP’s longtime failure to adopt legally enforceable regulations that value the economic damages to natural resources caused by polluters.

In the wake of the Christie administration’s corrupt settlement of a DEP proposed $8.9 billion for just $225 million,  the New Jersey Law Journal story documented, as we’ve written, that DEP lost all 3 NRD cases it litigated, going back over a decade to 2004 as a result of this core failure. Those cases include:

  • New Jersey Society of Environmental & Economic Development (SEED) v. Campbell(N.J. Super. Law Div., Mercer County, 2004)
  • N.J. Dept. of Envtl. Prot. v. Exxon Mobil Corp., Docket No. MER-L-2933-02 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div. Aug. 24, 2007
  • New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, et al. v. Essex Chemical Corporation (Appellate Division, 2012)

Mr. Latourette represented Essex Chemical Corporation and his legal advocacy basically killed the DEP’s NRD program – read the Appellate Division decision in that case:

On this basis alone LaTourette should fail to gain Senate confirmation.

The NJ Law Journal story makes this very clear:

But some lawyers and environmental advocates said the state’s failure to adopt a methodology for calculating damages for harm to natural resources through the formal rule-making process—as it committed to do more than a decade ago when it settled another suit—may have weakened its negotiating position and led to a lower settlement in not just the Exxon case but in other natural resource damage suits it has brought. …

Bill Wolfe, the director of nonprofit environmental advocacy group New Jersey Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said the issue is one he’s been raising since the SEED case.

Wolfe is not a lawyer but spent 13 years as a policy analyst and planner for the DEP, and was policy director for the Sierra Club’s New Jersey chapter for seven years.

Wolfe said the lack of valuation rules leaves the state vulnerable to challenges on the amount of damages. The state “knows it has a weak legal hand,” making it reluctant to push too hard and more willing to settle, Wolfe said, adding that Exxon’s lawyers are “sharp enough to know this” too. “There’s this wink and a nod going on where the DEP is saying, ‘We won’t squeeze you too hard if you just come to the table and settle,’” Wolfe said, adding that it’s been “a quiet little dance for 10 years,” with the state knowing it can’t get more than pennies on the dollar.

DEP still has not adopted regulations to enforce the NRD program. That failure continues to undermine the State’s legal hand and allow polluters to settle for pennies on the dollar.

Senator Smith established a Legislative TaskForce to develop these standards.  As NJ Spotlight reported:

Another problem with the [NRD] lawsuits is the state lacks any objective standards to monetize damages to New Jersey’s natural resources. Sen. Bob Smith, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, set up a legislative task force of industry experts and environmentalists to try and come up with a framework to establish such standards.

That Senate NRD Standards Taskforce has been abandoned and has done nothing.

If confirmed by the NJ Senate, Mr. LaTourette would preside over the DEP’s NRD program, a program that he essentially killed via his legal work on behalf of corporate polluters.

But LaTourett’s corporate whoring is not limited to Fortress Energy LNG and Essex Chemical NRD. Take a look at his ethics disclosure and recusal forms, which reveal that he represented:

  • Congoleum
  • Dupont
  • FMC
  • Novartis
  • Kinder Morgan
  • Weeks Marine
  • JIS Landfill Superfund Responsible Parties
  • Stag Industrial
  • Universal Preserv-A-Chem
  • Akzo Nobel

Gov. Murphy has got some big pair of balls to fob off this corporate hired gun as some public interest advocate.

Certainly all this deserves coverage prior to LaTourette’s Senate confirmation hearing, especially given Gov. Murphy’s press release claims.

[End Note: The Gov.’s claim was not supported by any facts and I have been unable to document Gov. Murphy’s claims that:

LaTourette began his career partnering with the Erin Brockovich law firm to organize and defend New Jersey communities whose drinking water was contaminated by petrochemicals

I ask readers to shoot me an email if you know where and when and how Mr. LaTourette was doing any of this. ~~~ end]

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