Chevron Phillips Settles Suit Over Pollution At Baytown Plant, No Thanks To TCEQ

Chevron-Phillips: The TCEQ wouldn't step in, so local groups did
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After years of illegally emitting carcinogens and other toxic pollutants into the air, Chevron Phillips Chemical Company has agreed to a settle a lawsuit against it and clean up its Cedar Bayou plant in Baytown.

"We can all breathe easier," says Luke Metzger of Environment Texas, which along with the Sierra Club sued Chevron Phillips Chemical Company in 2009 over illegal pollution stemming from so-called emissions events, which include equipment breakdowns and other malfunctions. "One of the biggest air polluters in the area will now have to clean up."

These are the same emissions events the Houston Press investigated last year, revealing that industrial chemical and oil companies along the Ship Channel have released tens of millions of pounds of pollutants into the air in excess of the permitted amounts, and that the TCEQ penalties of such violations offer little deterrent to the companies.

According to Neil Carman of the Sierra Club, it is the TCEQ's failure to enforce clean-air law that made the lawsuit against Chevron necessary.

"There's a renegade attitude in Houston that [companies] can break the law and get away with it and make money," he said. "We have to enforce the clean-air act because the state does an abysmal job."

Attorney Josh Kratka of the National Environmental Law Center in Boston announced today that a settlement agreement has been reached with Chevron Phillips Chemical Company. Starting January 1, the company will, according to Kratka, make equipment and facility upgrades as well as maintain its facility better to prevent emission events, will institute more monitoring, and will pay a $2 million penalty, all of which will go to the Baylor College of Medicine to build an environmental health clinic in the Ship Channel community.

Also, says Kratka, Chevron Phillips Chemical Company will reduce its emissions at the Cedar Bayou facility by 85 percent, down to 35,000 pounds a year, which is less than many individual emission events at the plant over the last seven years.

Stating that this settlement forces Chevron Phillips Chemical Company to live up to its legal obligation, Kratka also praised the company for agreeing to the settlement.

"The company stepped up and did the right thing," he said. "This is the right way to own up to, rather than deny, the problems."

In spring of 2009, Kratka and the same group of clean-air advocates settled a similar lawsuit with Shell over its Deer Park facility, and others are expected to follow.

"We are serving notice to polluters today," said Metzger. "We will be coming after you."

UPDATE: Chevron Phillips Chemical Company has issued a response to the settlement announcement. In it, Van Long, the Cedar Bayou plant manager says, "This settlement will allow Cedar Bayou's approximately 1,000 employees and contractors to continue their focus on safe, reliable and environmentally compliant operations without the distraction of litigation. The Company and this facility remain committed to environmental stewardship and to our community."

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