Harris County DA's Office Plays Hard Ball With ITC, Files Criminal Charges

ITC faces even more legal action against it.
ITC faces even more legal action against it. Photo by Kate McLean
Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC), whose Deer Park refinery tanks caught fire last month in an accident that shut down local schools and the Houston Ship Channel for days, has been hit with five environmental criminal charges by the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

DA Kim Ogg announced the measure, saying in a news release that “People living in Deer Park and the other neighboring residential areas near ITC’s plant deserve protection too. When public health is at risk, it’s a public safety concern.”

Michael Goldberg, an attorney with Baker Botts representing ITC, released this statement in response: "Although we have not seen the charges, there is no question that there was a large fire and an enormous effort to extinguish it which resulted in a discharge into Tucker Bayou."

The discharge he was referring to included the toxic chemicals xylene and benzene and occurred after an ITC dike broke. Tucker Bayou ties into Galveston Bay so the assumption is that some of the chemicals may have made it that far.

"The Environmental Crimes Division’s review of the evidence demonstrates that the water pollution in Tucker Bayou was at criminal levels from March 17 through March 21, establishing probable cause to believe that the company should be criminally charged for each day it violated the law, the news release said.

Environmental Crimes Division Chief prosecutor Alex Forrest called it a clear case of water pollution. “We are looking forward to reviewing the reports of other local and federal agencies, as they complete their investigations, so that we can determine if other charges will follow.”

According to the DA's office, ITC could face a fine of up to $100,000 per each of the five charges filed.

Harris County Commissioners Court voted in late March to sue ITC for the fire and chemical spill, seeking to recover all of its costs in helping to contain the aftermath effects of the accident. Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan sued ITC alleging violations of the Clear Air Act and violating state law and county regulations about industrial waste.  
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing