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U.S. judge knocks nearly $6 million off fine for Exxon Baytown, Texas, pollution

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An Exxon gas station is seen in Houston
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HOUSTON (Reuters) - A federal judge in Houston knocked $5.7 million off the fine Exxon Mobil Corp faces for pollution from its largest U.S. crude oil refinery, according to court documents.

U.S. District Judge David Hittner issued the ruling on Tuesday afternoon, imposing a $14.25 million penalty on Exxon for pollution from the Baytown, Texas, refinery and chemical plant complex over eight years.

In 2017, Hittner issued a $19.95 million penalty to Exxon, finding it was responsible for the pollution from the Baytown complex between 2005 and 2013 as alleged in a lawsuit initially filed in 2010 under the U.S. Clean Air Act by the Sierra Club and Environment Texas.

In July, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans threw out the penalty and ordered Hittner to determine which violations of the Clean Air Act specifically caused harm to members of the organizations living near Exxon’s Baytown operations.

The new penalty was based on a finding of 3,651 days of violations and rejection of an “Act of God” defense by the energy giant for pollution during 2008’s Hurricane Ike, which shut the complex.

“We are currently reviewing the decision and considering next steps,” Exxon spokesman Todd Spitler said on Wednesday.The head of Environment Texas called on Exxon to accept the latest ruling.

“We call on Exxon to finally stop its scorched-earth litigation tactics, pay its penalty and drop these endless appeals,” said Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas.

The lawsuit was filed under a provision of the Clean Air Act that allows citizens to sue when regulators have failed to stop pollution. Any fine will be paid to the federal government.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba; editing by Jonathan Oatis)