Largest-Ever Clean Air Act Lawsuit Filed In Texas Goes To Trial In Houston Federal Court

Bob Casey Federal Courthouse in Houston
A federal trial against Exxon Mobil is getting underway today in Houston. Citizens' groups claim Exxon Mobil repeatedly violated clean air standards with the emissions from its refinery in Baytown.

The Sierra Club and Environment Texas are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The groups say Exxon Mobil has had 4,000 so-called "emissions events" at its Baytown refinery since 2005.  The lawsuit says those events dumped nearly 10 tons of pollutants into the air. Adrian Shelley is the executive director of Air Alliance Houston. That's a local environmental group which is "not" part of the lawsuit. He says citizens' groups had to sue because the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality won't.

"The fact is the TCEQ has not been holding Exxon Mobil accountable for its unpermitted emissions over the last couple of years. So the citizens are stepping in to try to hold the company accountable."

Shelley says hefty punitive fines aren't necessarily the goal in lawsuits like this. He believes Environment Texas and the Sierra Club would be happy with a smaller penalty.

"If Exxon Mobil would also agree to installing technologies that would reduce emissions, and installing monitoring technology that would help them understand what's actually being emitted by their facility."

Shelley predicts Exxon Mobil will likely settle for a smaller fine, in exchange for those pollution monitors and controls. He points out recent similar suits Shell and Chevron ended with that kind of settlement.

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