HOUSTON, TX—Having suffered a second unanimous ruling against it in the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, ExxonMobil Corporation is back in the trial court once again, where U.S. District Court Judge Da- vid Hittner must now issue a new decision in NELC’s Clean Air Act enforcement suit.
As reported in our last newsletter, on May 27 a three-judge panel of Fifth Circuit judges overturned Judge Hittner’s original decision in the case, ruling that he had committed numerous legal errors and abuses of discretion in ruling in Exxon’s favor despite undisputed evidence of thousands of emission violations at the company’s Baytown, Texas, oil refinery and chemical plant complex.
Not to be deterred, on July 11 Exxon filed a petition for “en banc” rehearing, in which it requested that the entire 15-judge appeals court reconsider the three-judge panel’s decision. But the Fifth Circuit wasted little time in rejecting Exxon’s petition, as not a single member of the court voted to hear Exxon’s case again.
The case is now back before Judge Hittner, with instructions from the Court of Appeals to correct the errors from the first decision and assess penalties against Exxon based on the full number of actionable violations.
In an October 31 court filing, NELC attorneys argued that Exxon should pay a civil penalty of more than $40 million for having committed more than 16,000 days of Clean Air Act violations, in which more than 10 million pounds of harmful, toxic, and carcinogenic pollutants were released illegally. There is no timetable for issuance of the revised decision.