On Wednesday, David Hittner, a federal judge in Houston gave a verdict that ExxonMobil Corp should pay a civil fine of $20 million for the air pollution caused from its Texas-based chemical and refinery plant complex during 2005 – 2013.
The Baytown, Texas Corporation was accused of releasing ten million pounds of contaminants into the air. The U.S. District judge said that there was evidence that showed the emissions of the oil company had violated the Clean Air Act almost 16,386 times.
This lawsuit was got under the Clean Air Act by 2 environmental organizations the Sierra Club and Environment Texas. The latter welcomed the verdict in the lawsuit that had been running from a long time. This lawsuit was filed for the first time in the year 2010, though the district court gave its verdict in favor of the company after four years. Last year, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals checked out the original decision of Hittner and told him to reassess several case aspects.
In a 101-page verdict, Hittner accepted the argument of the plaintiffs that the oil company had accumulated over 14.2 million dollars in the supposed economic gains by putting off actions that would have restricted the emissions.
Environment Texas’ director Luke Metzger said – “We think it might be the largest citizen suit penalty in U.S. history. It definitely means it pays not to pollute.”
Exxon is likely to consider the legal options it has and may consider appealing the ruling. Todd Spitler, the spokesman of Exxon said – “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.”
The Clean Air Act lets citizens to take legal action when regulators fail to prevent pollution. According the two environment groups, the fine could have gone as high as 573 million dollars, though had sought only 41 million dollars.
An attorney from Massachusetts, who represented the plaintiff, David Nicholas said – “This penalty should send a message that it doesn’t pay to illegally pollute.”
The Baytown complex that belongs to Exxon includes one chemical plant, refining operations, and olefins plant. This complex has around 7,000 employees. It’s the world’s largest plant of its kind with the capacity of processing over 550,000 oil barrels per day and can produce petrochemical products of 13 billion pounds in a year.
If Exxon doesn’t appeal the decision and win another courtroom war, it has to pay the 20 million dollars civil fine to the U.S. Treasury Department.