ExxonMobil appeals $19.9 mil penalty

By Matt Hollis matt.hollis@baytownsun.comFriday, September 15, 2017 12:00 am

ExxonMobil is appealing a $19.9 million penalty for spewing millions of pounds of hazardous pollutants from its Baytown industrial complex.

In April, U.S. District Judge David Hittner said the company should pay $19.95 million for repeatedly busting air pollution limits at its sprawling Baytown complex. From 2005 to 2013, the company’s refinery and chemical plants released 10 million pounds of pollution in excess of its state­issued air permits.

The Sierra Club and Environment Texas sued the energy giant in 2010, alleging that over a five­year period it had emitted more than 8 million pounds of hazardous chemicals and other contaminants from its Baytown complex than is allowed by state and federal law and clean air permits. The 3,400­ acre complex houses a refinery and chemical, olefins and plastics plants.

The two environmental groups filed a $641 million lawsuit against Exxon under a provision in the federal Clean Air Act that allows citizens to sue amid inaction by state and federal environmental regulators.

U.S. District Judge David Hittner reversed a July 31 decision handed back to his court after the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated his ruling.

“We disagree with the decision of the court. ExxonMobil’s full compliance history and good faith efforts to comply weigh against assessing any penalty,” said ExxonMobil spokesman Mike Ashton. “The court has recognized that none of the events in question actually or potentially harmed public health or the environment.”

David Nicholas, attorney for the plaintiffs, said in April that the case was essentially “over.” Any money obtained in the judgment would go into the U.S. Treasury, not into the hands of the environmental groups.

In 2014, Judge Hittner issued an 80 ­page ruling stating that the groups did not prove their claim that ExxonMobil purposely violated the Clean Air Act.

After the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated Judge Hittner’s ruling, the court issued a 40­page ruling that declared that the district court “abused its discretion to impose any penalties, issue a declaratory judgment or grant injunctive relief in remediation of the violations at issue.”