Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan Seeks to Stop Century-old Pasadena Refinery's Pollution

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan alleges Pasadena Refining System Inc. has had state-level environmental violations as well.
Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan alleges Pasadena Refining System Inc. has had state-level environmental violations as well. Roy Luck via Flickr creative commons
The hits just keep on coming for Pasadena Refining System Inc., one of the oldest refineries in Texas.

Shortly after being slapped with a federal lawsuit in which two environmental groups alleged the century-old refinery has violated the federal Clean Air Act, the company, owned and operated by Petrobras, the state-run Brazilian petroleum company, has been tapped again, this time for alleged violations of state environmental laws. Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan recently filed an enforcement action in state district court seeking to hold the company responsible for repeated violations of state environmental protection laws.

Ryan's filing came hot on the heels of the federal lawsuit filed last Thursday by the Sierra Club and Environment Texas, as we previously reported. Their suit is a citizen-enforcement claiming the refinery company has violated the Clean Air Act "thousands" of times, releasing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions in amounts that violate hourly and yearly limits set by the law.

Now Ryan's office is claiming there have been other problems on the state level.

Investigations conducted by Harris County Pollution Control Services uncovered serious violations of the Texas Clean Air Act and the Texas Clean Water Act, according to a release issued by Ryan's office on Monday. Ryan's office has asked a court to review the company’s environmental practices. If the company does not come up with an "acceptable plan to achieve compliance," Ryan is asking a court-ordered receiver be appointed to make sure Pasadena Refining System Inc. takes the proper corrective measures to fix these issues.

The filing noted an incident that occurred back in July when more than 1,400 pounds of sulfur dioxide, a toxic gas that can make it difficult to breathe and can kill people, was released during a flaring operation at the refinery. The nearby Washburn Tunnel and the Houston Ship Channel were forced to close because of the release, and Galena Park was under a shelter-in-place order for more than an hour.

Ryan's office opted to file an enforcement action against Pasadena Refining System Inc. in the hope that the officials of the company — which has had a number of violations in recent years, as we've reported — will take the right steps to correct these problems.

As with the suit from the environmental groups, it seems the real goal is to get Pasadena Refining System Inc. to fix these issues itself. County officials met with company representatives the day before Ryan put in the enforcement action and agreed to work together to resolve the problems before Ryan had even filed.
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Dianna Wray is a nationally award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Houston, she writes about everything from NASA to oil to horse races.
Contact: Dianna Wray