Exxon fined $19.95 million for Texas refinery pollution

Exxon is mulling its legal options.

U.S. District Court Judge David Hittner has ruled that ExxonMobil Corp will have to pay $19.95 million as a penalty for pollution released from its Baytown, Texas, refining and chemical plant complexes between 2005 and 2013.

The lawsuit was filed by Sierra Club and Environment Texas under the U.S. Clean Air Act by the environmental groups.

“We think it might be the largest citizen suit penalty in U.S. history,” said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas. “It definitely means it pays not to pollute.”

Exxon stated it would consider its legal options while include appealing against the ruling.

“We disagree with the court’s decision and the award of any penalty,” said Todd Spitler, Exxon’s spokesman in an emailed statement. “As the court expressed in its decision, ExxonMobil’s full compliance history and good faith efforts to comply weigh against assessing any penalty.”

In the 101-page ruling Hittner stated that Exxon was found guilty of violating the provisions of the Clean Air Act for 16,386 days.  The company had released 10 million pounds (4.5 million kg) of pollutants in the air in violation of operating permits issued to Exxon for the Baytown complex.

“The court finds given the number of days of violations and the quantitative amount of emissions released as a result, the seriousness factor weighs in favor of the assessment of a penalty,” wrote Hittner in the ruling.

The ruling comes in the wake of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determining that Hittner had errored in a 2014 ruling when he had assessed Exxon’s liability for pollution from the refinery, chemical plant and olefins plant in the Baytown complex in the eastern suburbs of Houston.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals had sent back the case to Hittner to reassess Exxon’s liability.

Incidentally, the Baytown complex includes the second largest refinery in the United States. The area comes under the watch of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). The regulator had imposed a fine of $1.4 million on Exxon for pollution. Hittner deducted that amount in determining the penalty.

The penalty paid by Exxon will be credited to federal government’s account.

Hittner has also stated that Exxon is to pay for the legal expenses incurred by the two environmental groups.

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