In still another loss for ExxonMobil in a historical and long-running environmental enforcement case, a U.S. District Court judge has imposed a $14.25 million penalty to punish the company for violating the federal legislation —the biggest yet enforced in a Clean Air Act citizen enforcement suit.

Exxon has been fighting this case for 11 years now, but last July, a three-judge panel had rejected the majority of the arguments Exxon had made in its appeal of the first $19.95 million penalty in this instance.

The appellate court sent the case back to Judge David Hittner to make additional findings about how many of the thousands of proven Clean Air Act violations were of a type or magnitude that was “capable of inducing ” the sorts of harms suffered by people who live near the sprawling refinery and chemical plant complex in Baytown, Texas.

Exxon’s 3,400-acre facility sits about 25 miles east of downtown Houston, and tens of thousands of people live within three miles of the complex.

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In his new view, Judge Hittner found that the environmental groups had demonstrated at trial that over 3,651 times (8 years) thousands of cases of illegal flaring and unauthorized releases of pollutants causing smoke, chemical odors, ground-level ozone, and respiratory difficulties were “fairly traceable” to the harms plaintiffs suffered.

We’re extremely pleased that Judge Hittner has, once more, assessed a civil penalty against Exxon that is larger than any punishment ever imposed in a Clean Air Act citizen enforcement suit, said National Environmental Law Center senior lawyer Josh Kratka, who was part of the legal team representing Environment Texas and Sierra Club.

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In support of his penalty assessment, Judge Hittner pointed to the fact that Exxon had committed more than one violation each and every day for a period of eight years.

This case follows successful cases the exact groups brought against Shell Oil Company for violations at its Deer Park refinery, Chevron Phillips for violations at its Cedar Bayou plant, and Pasadena Refining Systems, Inc. for violations at the Pasadena refinery.

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Exxons Baytown refinery-chemical complex is the biggest polluter on the Houston Ship Channel affecting the air quality of hundreds of thousands of citizens, stated Neil Carman, clean air program manager, Sierra Clubs Lone Star Chapter. Exxon Baytown still wants to clean up its act and do more to create cleaner air in the Houston area, he added.

(Featured photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi)