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Exxon Mobil: NH looking for scapegoat in MTBE suit

Lynne Tuohy, Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- The state of New Hampshire is looking for a lot of money and a scapegoat in its lawsuit against Exxon Mobil over the use of the gasoline additive MTBE, attorneys for the oil company said Monday to close out a marathon trial.

Jurors were hearing from both sides as they edge closer to the start of deliberations in the longest state trial in New Hampshire history.

The state is seeking hundreds of millions of dollars from the Irving, Texas-based company to detect and remediate groundwater contaminated with MTBE.

Exxon Mobil Corp. attorney James Quinn told jurors Monday that his client acted responsibly and in response to federal Clean Air Act mandates in adding MTBE to its gasoline between 1988 and 2005. He cited experts who said there were significant benefits in reducing smog.

"What is the case really all about?" Quinn asked jurors. "It's about hind-sighting, scapegoating, second-guessing and muddling."

In wrapping up three hours of arguments for Exxon Mobil, attorney David Lender asked jurors if MTBE contamination is as pervasive and prevalent as the state claims, why is this trial the first time they have heard of it.

Lawyers for the state will make their arguments Monday afternoon.

The state is seeking more than $240 million from Exxon Mobil — the only defendant of the 26 the state sued 10 years ago that didn't reach a settlement.

New Hampshire banned the use of MTBE — methyl tertiary butyl ether — in 2007.