Eliot Tackles Brooklyn Spill
DEC gives up trying to get ExxonMobil cleanup deal
BY ELIZABETH HAYS
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has thrown his weight behind an effort to clean up a massive, decades-old oil spill lurking beneath Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
The move comes after the Department of Environmental Conservation agreed to hand over dealings with accused polluter ExxonMobil after years of lobbying by environmental advocates.
The DEC had come under increasing criticism by advocates for failing to force ExxonMobil to clean up the 30 million-gallon spill - discovered in 1978 - quickly.
"This is the beginning of the end of Exxon's treachery," said Basil Seggos of Riverkeeper, which has been leading the fight. "This case hasn't been handled well for 15 or 20 years."
Advocates hoped Democratic gubernatorial candidate Spitzer would be able to force a more rapid cleanup of the spill - which is much larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.
"We are doing a very vigorous investigation," said Spitzer policy adviser Judith Enck, who added that Spitzer could seek a legally binding cleanup agreement - or take ExxonMobil to court.
"This is a really huge sign of hope for Greenpoint," said resident Teresa Toro. "We finally feel like the government is on our side."
The DEC hammered out a consent order with ExxonMobil in 1990, but critics have called the deal "toothless" because it lacked penalties and time limits. Nine million gallons have been recovered so far.
A DEC spokeswoman said officials had been working on a new consent order, but referred the matter to Spitzer "when [ExxonMobil] did not present offers that were satisfactory to us after extensive negotiations."
ExxonMobil already is facing three lawsuits, including a federal case brought by Riverkeeper and a class action suit by Greenpoint homeowners in which environmental crusader Erin Brockovich is involved.
An ExxonMobil spokesman said the company was "disappointed" that the DEC had handed the case to Spitzer and said legal action is "unwarranted."
"Should any legal actions progress, however, we stand ready to present the appropriateness of our actions," said spokesman Brian Dunphy.
City Councilmen David Yassky (D-Brooklyn) and Eric Gioia (D-Queens), who, with Borough President Marty Markowitz, joined Riverkeeper's suit, said they welcomed Spitzer's involvement.
"This is the first good step the DEC has done to hand this over to Eliot Spitzer," Yassky said.
Said Gioia: "After being coddled for decades by a hapless state agency, Exxon will finally get what it deserves."