At the City Council meeting on Monday, Jan. 27, Councilors Gerly Adrien and Michael McLaughlin voted against accepting a donation from the ExxonMobil Corporation destined for the Fire Department after the councilwoman made it known that the oil giant is currently being sued for environmental damages to the City of Everett.
The donation, in the amount of $2,500, was destined to the Everett Fire Department’s Safe Fire Donation Account, a fund used to pay for advanced safety training for members. According to Fire Chief Anthony Carli, ExxonMobil has regularly donated small amounts to this fund over the past decade to mitigate the environmental impact of its presence in the community.
According to its website, the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) alleges that the massive ExxonMobil petroleum storage terminal in Everett is endangering Everett citizens and creating a public health crisis. CLF claims that ExxonMobil is violating the Clean Water Act of 1972 by “regularly releasing dangerous levels of toxic chemicals and other pollutants into the Mystic and Island End Rivers.”
CLF specifically cites the presence of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, or PAHs, chemicals found in the pollutants from petroleum products. Once they enter the environment, PAHs can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin, causing skin inflammation, gastrointestinal issues and breathing difficulties. Long-term exposure can lead to cancer, organ damage and DNA breakdown, among other serious conditions.
In March of 2019, CLF filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil over its Everett petroleum terminal. U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf ruled that the suit should advance in Boston federal court. The oil company is currently being sued on nine counts, including failure to protect the site from flooding that could leach toxic chemicals into nearby waterways.
Councilor Adrien said she would vote to reject the donation from the Texas-based company, worrying that accepting it would be a conflict of interests for the city.
“We need to first understand what is happening with the lawsuit, and how [Exxon] is harming the residents of our city,” she said.
Councilor McLaughlin made a motion to move the matter to committee where it could be discussed in greater detail.
“I was not privy to this and it does raise major concerns,” he said. “We should not be voting for donations from organizations that are harming our people.”
Councilor Anthony DiPierro disagreed.
“We are not a court. We don’t decide on lawsuits,” he said. “If they want to donate money to our public safety resources, I will not say ‘no.’”
“Why are we bringing up lawsuits?” said Council President Rosa DiFlorio. “Whoever is suing Exxon, it doesn’t matter.”
Councilor Wayne Matewsky said that $2,500 was a pittance for the $341 billion company.
“I think Exxon should have to come here and explain this lawsuit,” he said. “Their outreach to the community is not what it should be. They throw donations around like manhole covers.”
Councilor Stephanie Martins said she supported discussing the matter in committee, but that she would vote to accept the donation.
“I will vote to accept anything going to public safety,” she said.
Councilor Fred Capone said he understood his colleague’s concerns, but said that accepting the donation was not the same as condoning the company’s actions.
“I agree that their practices are dangerous and harmful,” he said. “We take the money to offset some of that.”
Councilor Peter Napolitano concurred.
“Money going into the City is still money going into the City,” he said, but he allowed that Council should be aware of any ongoing lawsuits.
The body ultimately voted to accept the donation with the exception of Councilors Adrien and McLaughlin.
After the vote, Councilor Adrien expressed shock that her colleagues had not known of the lawsuit until that meeting and disappointment that they had chosen to accept the donation regardless.
“Not one City Councilor, people who have been on this Council for years, knew about this,” she said in a letter. “With the exception of Councilor McLaughlin, I do not think they understand they are supposed to protect Everett residents instead of putting them in harm’s way.”
To read about the CLF lawsuit in detail, go to clf.org/exxon-endangering-everett.