Federal Judge Postpones Exxon Case in Everett, Chelsea

A federal judge in Boston logged a decision on March 23 to postpone the case against ExxonMobil’s Everett terminal until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) makes a ruling on the facility’s discharge permit.

The only problem with that, said Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) President Brad Campbell, is such permits can take decades to be acted upon – thus rendering the case moot and residents potentially put at risk due to flooding and storm surges at the terminal.

Judge Mark Wolfe ruled on the matter March 23, which was at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The judge ruled for a stay on the matter using a doctrine we think is not applicable to the case,” said Campbell. “Essentially, the judge put a hold on the proceedings until EPA issues a new permit for the facility. That could take years and typically does take years. There are facilities in Massachusetts where permits have been waiting for action for 10 years or more…We respectfully disagree with the judge on the application of the law and will appeal it.”

Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria said he encouraged ExxonMobil to put a plan together to address the deficiencies at the terminal.

“As one of the most densely populated communities in the Commonwealth, we have continued to increase our city investment in enhancing, repairing and maintaining our storm drainage system,” he said. “We have updated our storm water regulations, reduced parking requirements, passed a driveway ordinance and built rain gardens. Private businesses need to recognize the catastrophic consequences of ignoring climate change. They need to work with local municipalities to decrease the risks of damage when storms do occur and to move our economy forward while building climate resiliency.”

ExxonMobil did not respond for comment.

CLF, along with several groups in Everett and Chelsea, filed the lawsuit on the basis that the Everett Terminal has no plan for coastal resiliency and is subject to flooding from sea level rise and coastal surge storms. In those events, Campbell said polluted waters are being discharged into the Island End River and the Mystic River and it is putting residents of the area at risk as well.

Large coastal surge storms have also become worrisome to activists who believe the facility could be inundated and cause great catastrophe through the release of petroleum from the storage tanks.

Specifically, CLF’s lawsuit alleges that ongoing spills and pollution at ExxonMobil’s Everett Terminal and Exxon’s failure to address current and imminent climate risks at the facility – risks its own scientists have warned of for decades – are unlawful under the federal Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

“We have known that frontline, low-income, communities of color like Chelsea, Everett and East Boston will be hit first and worst by climate events,” said Roseann Bongiovanni, director of GreenRoots in Chelsea. “However, what we have learned through COVID-19 is that our communities are being hit worse than we once expected. The tsunami of environmental and public health insults have already caused lasting damage to our health and well-being. This court decision is infuriating and shows that environmental justice communities continue to be shouldered with ever-mounting burdens that make us even more vulnerable.”

The timing of the decision is rather disappointing to those involved in the case, especially since it has been under review for several years and the decision was rendered during a pandemic state of emergency. That said, CLF welcomes the appeals process.

“It’s languished on the docket and that’s clearly disappointing because there are communities at risk, but we’re looking forward to the 1st Circuit Court process and telling the story,” Campbell said. “The wheels of justice unfortunately turn slowly and Judge Wolfe’s order makes it even more important we continue the fight for the residents of Chelsea and Everett.”

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