New Jersey Needs to Pull Pension Money from Passaic Polluters

Imagine if a big oil company controlled by a foreign government used clever lawyering to dodge its share of the cost of cleaning up the Passaic River, one of the oldest polluted sites in America.

Now imagine that you as a taxpayer were unwittingly one of the largest investors in that same company.

It sounds unbelievable. Unfortunately, it’s all too real. The New Jersey state pension fund has invested millions of dollars in YPF S.A., the Argentinian oil giant that dumped dioxin into the Passaic River for decades. This is the same company that is using U.S. bankruptcy laws to get out of paying its share of the cost of the $1.38 billion clean-up of the Passaic River Superfund site while making billions on Wall Street.

This is hardly the sort of behavior our state should reward. And yet that’s effectively what the pension fund is doing. The fund owns 866,600 shares in YPF and is its second largest pension investor. Those shares are worth approximately $21 million, enough to cover the annual salaries of some of the same executives who are taking advantage of our state.

The lower 8.3 miles of the Passaic River is one of the most polluted stretches of water in the nation. It has been on the national priorities list for over three decades without any action to clean it, or punishment for those who created it. When the Environmental Protection Agency finally announced their plan to remediate, the company filed for bankruptcy. This was a clear attempt to manipulate the system and shift their liability onto the people of New Jersey.

The state is basically investing taxpayer money into a company that wants the taxpayer to clean up their billion-dollar mess.

Passing my bill, A4814, would make it illegal for the pension funds and other assets to be invested in any company that tries to shirk its obligations under federal Superfund laws. Taxpayer dollars won’t be used to clean messes made by those exploiting our system. The bill echoes the bipartisan resolution I sponsored that unanimously passed earlier this year, calling on federal and state authorities to investigate YPF’s unethical actions. Like that resolution, the pension fund bill has bipartisan, majority support.

With more Superfund sites than any state in the nation, New Jersey has a significant interest in standing up to companies that seek to dodge their liabilities. If companies responsible for pollution are able to avoid the expense of cleaning up their toxic mess without consequence, other companies might be emboldened to do the same thing. Simply enough, we need to stand-up to them.
The legislature has taken the steps to send a message to these Superfund scofflaws. The longer this waits, the longer our environment remains toxic and polluted, and the longer New Jerseyans suffer. Now it has a chance to finish the job.

In the lame duck session, we need to act now to protect our taxpayers and New Jersey’s environment. State pension funds should not be used to reward companies that hurt our state and damage our environment by shirking their Superfund responsibilities. Passing my bill will reaffirm this simple principle by hitting YPF where it hurts – the wallet.