Houston, TX – In December 2010, NELC filed our latest and, arguably, most significant Texas Gulf Coast Clean Air Act enforcement suit. The defendant: ExxonMobil Corporation, the world’s largest oil company. The target: Exxon’s Baytown refinery and chemical plant complex in Texas, the nation’s largest. And the quantities of illegal pollution at stake are greater than those in NELC’s previous Shell and Chevron Phillips cases combined (see accompanying story, 2012 Fall – Gulf Coast Litigation Paying Clean Air Dividends).
However, unlike Shell and Chevron Phillips, each of which entered negotiations to resolve its violations of federal law, Exxon has decided to dig in and fight.
In 2011, after losing a motion to dismiss the case, Exxon replaced its legal team with not one, but two new law firms. The company also hired eight outside expert witnesses to buttress its cadre of in-house specialists. Exxon even asked the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to issue a new enforcement order—drafted by Exxon’s lawyers—in an apparent effort to create the impression that the company’s violations were being adequately addressed by the government.
In May and June of this year, the two sides took more than 20 depositions. Among those questioned under oath were expert witnesses, company personnel, and members of Environment Texas and the Sierra Club who live near the Baytown Complex and suffer from the effects of Exxon’s illegal air pollution.
On August 10, NELC’s attorneys filed a motion—based on Exxon’s own emissions records—seeking a ruling that Exxon has committed more than 10,000 violations of the Clean Air Act since 2005.
A ruling on NELC’s motion is expected this fall, with trial scheduled for late 2012.
“If Exxon and other companies put the resources and the attention into it, they could stop these [emissions events] …the public and our members expect these companies to comply with their permits.
Luke Metzger, director of co-plaintiff Environment Texas, from his deposition.