District Court Issues Exxon Mobil $21 Million in Penalties for Clean Air Act Violations

On Wednesday, a federal judge ruled that ExxonMobil Corp must pay a penalty worth nearly $20 million because of pollution generated by its Baytown, TX refining and chemical plant (between 2005 and 2013).

U.S. District Court Judge David Hittner had originally issued this ruling in a citizen lawsuit that had been initially brought under the U.S. Clean Air Act by two environmental groups: the Sierra Club, and Environment Texas. The latter, of course, welcomed the courts ruling in this very long-running lawsuit, which they had first filed seven years ago.

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

Looking at the case more closely, the suit was originally filed under a provision of the Clean Air Act, the United States Environmental Protection Agency allows for any citizen(s) to sue any other person or company when regulators have not done enough to stop pollution. These two groups involved with the suit, then, argue that while they had only originally sought damages of $41 million, the penalty could be as much as $573 million.

As such, the court’s 101-page decision notes that the company was, essentially, guilty of 16,386 days of violations, resulting in 10 million pounds (4.5 million kg) of pollutants released in the air; violations of operating permits Exxon had received specifically for the Baytown complex.
US District Judge David Hittner wrote, in the judgment: “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.”

And that penalty is roughly equivalent to $37,500 per day, which will be paid to the federal government. Hittner notes that Exxon is liable, also, for legal fees incurred by the two environmental groups that had taken up the case.

Exxon, of course, is challenging the outcome of this suit. Exxon spokesman Todd Spitler argues, “We disagree with the court’s decision and the award of any penalty. As the court expressed in its decision, ExxonMobil’s full compliance history and good faith efforts to comply weigh against assessing any penalty.”