Exxon to get federal money for WWII-related cleanup

Exxon Mobil Corp. will get help from the U.S. government in paying for clean up costs at two refineries that produced billions of gallons of aviation fuel for allied forces during World War II and the Korean War.

A federal judge in Houston said she’ll decide later what the U.S.’s share of the cost will be. Exxon said it’ll cost more than the $71 million that it already spent. The facilities in Baytown, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, are among the biggest U.S. refineries.

The decision conflicts with a ruling of the Court of Federal Claims in Washington, which said this year that the government didn’t have to help pay for wartime environmental cleanup at a Shell Oil Co. refinery.

“The issue is whether the federal government or a private oil company it contracted with to produce fuel needed in the wars must pay for the environmental harm,” U.S District Judge Lee Rosenthal said in an 84-page ruling. The U.S. “is liable for its equitable share of the past and future cleanup costs.”

The government contracted with Exxon’s predecessors to rapidly ramp up production of war materiel, including vital aviation fuel, according to the judge’s order. The rush to production also generated more hazardous waste, which the refineries dumped into nearby bodies of water, including the Houston Ship Channel and the Mississippi River.

Exxon initially sought a 100 percent recovery from the government on all cleanup costs at the two sites, arguing the decades-old wartime pollution was so intermingled with more- recent damage that it couldn’t be evaluated separately.

Rosenthal rejected that bid and said she’d decide during a later trial phase how to divide the bill between the company and taxpayers.