Yesterday, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced that the State will sue ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, Keyspan and Phelps Dodge over a 17-million-gallon oil spill in Newtown Creek that has spread underneath Greenpoint over 100 acres. The spill was detected in 1978, when a Coast Guard pilot noticed an oil plume; oil seeped underground from ExxonMobil refinery and storage operations since the 1950s. Attorney General Cuomo said:

This is one of the worst environmental disasters in the nation, larger than the Exxon Valdez and slower in the cleanup. ExxonMobil must and will be held accountable. The toxic footprint of ExxonMobil is found all over this area. It is ExxonMobil’s oil that remains under the homes and businesses. And it is ExxonMobil that has dragged its feet and done as little as possible to address the dangers that it created.”

And while there are four other oil companies who will also receive "Notices of Intent to Sue," the main focus is ExxonMobil, who Cuomo said "has proven itself far less than a model corporate citizen, placing its greed for windfall profits over public safety and the well-being of the environment."

The NY Times says the lawsuit is a "sharp turning point" in the state's "handling of the spill," as there have been some lawsuits but no state action. In 1990, ExxonMobil and the State had an agreement for ExxonMobil to recover spilled oil, but without a deadline. Last year, State Comptroller Alan Hevesi urged the state Department of Environmental Conservation not to negotiate another agreement with ExxonMobil. City Councilman Eric Gioia said of the lawsuit, "I feel like the cavalry just arrived. We've been like David fending off a polluting Goliath."

The state is looking for the oil companies to agree to testing and investigations to see the "full scope" of contamination, recovery of spilled oil, cleanup, restoration of Newtown Creek, and damages for injuries. In other words, lots of money. ExxonMobil says, "We take our environmental responsibilities very seriously and have committed substantial resources toward cleaning up the site. Complex remediation projects such as this, where the product to be recovered is under ground and not easily accessible, takes time to complete.” But there's always time to make record profits.

And for comparison, the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska was 11 million gallons over 55 acres.