Try this for a role reversal: Oil giant Exxon Mobil is seeking more than $45 million dollars from the federal government to cover the cost of a toxic waste cleanup.
The case involves a refinery complex the United States operated during World War II. Exxon is bringing its suit under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act -- better known as Superfund, the government's statute of choice for making big corporations clean up environmental messes.
The refinery was owned by Humble Oil and Refining Co., a predecessor to Exxon. But during World War II, the complaints says, the government assumed substantial day-to-day control of the complex, and oversaw the construction of five additional plants on nearby property. It returned the refinery to private hands after the Korean War.
Since taking back control of the complex, Exxon says it has spent $45 million complying with orders from a Texas state commission to clean up environmental damage from the site. The company claims the government has not reimbursed any of those costs, even though under the Superfund act, as the plant's operator at the time of the contamination, it should be liable. It is asking the court for an order requiring the government to pay for all past and future cleanup expenses, or to at least cover its "equitable share."
According to the complaint, Exxon filed another civil suit against the government in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in March of 2009. That case claims the government was contractually obligated to pay for Baytown cleanup. The action is still pending.
Exxon is represented by a team from Baker Botts that includes partners Daniel Steinway and Joe Caldwell Jr. Steinway directed a request for comment to Exxon, which issued the following statement:
"As an American company, ExxonMobil is committed to supporting our government in its efforts to protect the rights and freedoms of its citizens. We are proud to have provided strong support to the U.S. during World War II and the Korean Conflict. While we have filed this action, we remain hopeful our claims can be resolved amicably. Regardless, we take our environmental responsibility seriously, and we'll continue to work with federal and state agencies on addressing our remediation obligations."
This article first appeared on The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.