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Federal judge allows environmental groups' lawsuit against ExxonMobil

A federal judge on Tuesday permitted two environmental groups to sue a Texas refinery owned by ExxonMobil Corp. [corporate website] for failing to enforce federal environmental standards. The Sierra Club and Environment Texas [advocacy websites] filed the lawsuit [Reuters report] in December in the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas [official website] against ExxonMobil's Baytown, Texas, refinery and the adjacent chemical plant for allegedly releasing over 8 million pounds of pollutants beyond the levels permitted under the CAA in the last five years. The Clean Air Act (CAA) [materials] contains a provision permitting private individuals to seek enforcement of federal pollution laws when the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] fails to do so. Exxon argued that the lawsuit should not proceed because the EPA already oversees the enforcement of CAA pollution standards. The parties seek a court order [press release] enjoining ExxonMobil to cease committing CAA violations. ExxonMobil also faces civil penalties of up to $37,500 per day for each violation.

Former New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo [official website] announced in August 2008 that 12 states had filed suit [press release] against the EPA for its alleged failure to enforce provisions of the CAA requiring oil refineries to adopt measures curbing the pollution contributing to global warming. The lawsuit was an attempt by New York and several other states to force the EPA to comply with CAA terms requiring global warming pollution regulation. The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit [official website] vacated [decision, PDF; JURIST report] a 2006 EPA rule [Federal Register notice] prohibiting state and local governments from monitoring air pollution below acceptable levels set by the EPA for "stationary" sources such as power plants and factories. Earlier in 2008, 14 states sued the EPA over new smog regulations [JURIST report]. In 2006, a group of states sued the EPA [JURIST report] over its alleged failure to regulate smog emissions from power plants. The EPA and the US Justice Department announced [JURIST report] in October 2005 that ExxonMobil would spend an estimated $571 million to settle a lawsuit with the federal government and three states over alleged violations of the CAA. The settlement was intended to cut the annual production of pollutants from ExxonMobil's refineries that cause respiratory problems and worsen childhood asthma, and must be spent cutting the production of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

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