$2 billion Exxon refund ordered

The Supreme Court said Monday, in effect, that Exxon Corporation must repay consumers nationwide more than $2 billion in refunds and interest for overcharging on the sale of oil from a Texas field. The court let stand a ruling that the money be distributed to the states and spent on programs to help energy consumers and the needy.

The penalty against Exxon is the largest monetary judgment in American history to be upheld on appeal. Exxon, the nation's largest corporation, was found to have overpriced oil from the Hawkins field near Tyler, Texas, between 1975 and 1981.

Gasoline at the pump in the United States dropped an average of 1.59 cents a gallon in the last two weeks, but there is not yet a retail price reduction to match the one on world crude-oil markets. ``There is no question prices at the refinery gate have been falling,'' retail gasoline analyst Dan Lundberg says. ``But so far they have shown no comparable decline at retail,'' and he predicted there would be none. He said dealers were adding to profit margins instead.

In Mr. Lundberg's latest survey of 13,200 service stations nationwide, the average price of unleaded regular was $1.14, down 2.08 cents.

Contract talks have broken down between Eastern Airlines and its pilots' union, and federal mediators said Monday they had declared a 30-day ``cooling off'' period for both sides. When the period ends Feb. 26, the pilots' union would be free to strike and the company would be free to impose its own wage-slashing contract, mediators said. Eastern's 4,400 pilots are expected to hold a strike authorization vote this week.

The airline's lenders have given it until Feb. 28 to squeeze concessions from its three unions or else face default on its $2.5 billion debt. Eastern, the nation's third-largest airline, last week slashed the wages of its flight attendants and nonunion employees by 20 percent. It also laid off more than 1,000 of its 7,200 flight attendants.

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