The ExxonMobile industrial complex in Baytown, Texas is a sprawling place. Stretching over nearly 2,500 acres over five square miles, the complex, the second largest oil refinery in the country, is capable of processing more than half a million barrels of oil a day -- along with significant amounts of air pollution. And according to Texas environmental groups, Exxon's plant regularly violated the terms of its operating permits, belching far more pollution into the air than what was permitted.
Six years ago, those groups brought suit under the Clean Air Act, accusing Exxon of thousands of violations at its Baytown plant. A district court found only 94 of the thousands of alleged violations to be "actionable" and refused to impose any penalties against the world's largest oil company. But those groups received some vindication from the Fifth Circuit last week, when that court ruled the district court had abused its discretion by "declining to impose any penalties, issue a declaratory judgment or grant injunctive relief in remediation of the violations at issue."