PORT ARTHUR —
A number of environmental groups are banding together in their bid for an investigation of federal and Texas regulators’ response to repeated breakdowns at the facilities.
The Environmental Integrity Project and nine community and public interest organizations, including Community In Power and Development Association in Port Arthur, sent a letter to the USEPA Inspector General regarding the claims.
They purport that Valero Refinery in Port Arthur and the ExxonMobil Refinery in Beaumont are among the five Texas gas and petrochemical facilities that have released the most pollution over the past four years.
A spokesperson with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said the agency does not comment on others’ studies or assertions. According to information on TCEQ’s website, from 2000 to 2011, ozone levels in Texas decreased by 23 percent.
The information may be found at http://www.tceq.texas.gov/airquality/airsuccess/air-success-criteria
The environmental groups say the USEPA has made clear that these so-called “emission events” are not exempt from the Clean Air Act, which means that federal and state agencies can order these plants to install or improve emission controls to fix the problem, according to a press release from Hastingsgroup.com. Violators are also liable for penalties, unless they can prove the upsets are infrequent, completely unavoidable, and could not have been prevented through better design or operation of pollution control equipment.
“Each year the refineries and chemical plants dump tons of unregulated emission into the air that my community breathes. Too many people are being subjected to toxic fumes and are becoming ill; one out of every five households in my hometown has someone who suffers from respiratory problem or other illnesses related to chemical exposure. We need to stop these toxic releases now,” Hilton Kelley of Port Arthur, who is director of CIDA, said.
The letter to the Inspector General was sent by Environmental Integrity Project, Air Alliance Houston, Community In-Power and Development Association, Earthjustice, the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, Public Citizen Texas, Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, and Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy.
The letter identifies 20 facilities with combined releases of 49,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and other hazardous pollutants. The five plants reporting the most emissions over the four year period due to upsets are:
• Keystone Gas Plant in Winkler County with 13,852 tons of air pollution from 239 incidents;
• ExxonMobil Beaumont in Jefferson County with 6,435 tons of air pollution from 70 incidents;
• Mallet CO2 Recovery Plant in Hockley County with 4,004 tons of air pollution from 110 incidents;
• Goldsmith Gas Plant in Ector County with 3,855 tons of air pollution from 240 incidents; and
• Valero Port Arthur Refinery in Jefferson County with 3,159 tons of air pollution from 100 incidents.
Environmental Integrity Project Director Eric Schaeffer said: “Enough is enough. These breakdowns release thousands of tons of sulfur dioxide and other pollutants that degrade air quality and can be harmful to communities nearby. We understand that even well run plants with state of the art pollution controls may occasionally have a malfunction. But these 20 plants combined reported more than two thousand incidents over the past four years. When breakdowns become the routine, facilities should be required to fix the problem by upgrading equipment and improving their operations.”
Dr. Neil Carman, Lone Star Chapter of Sierra Club said: "These uncontrolled industrial emissions in Texas need to be dealt with by the EPA, since the state of Texas under the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has been ineffective in preventing these toxic pollutants. The volumes of these emissions are extraordinarily high and many of the plants are sited in or adjacent to communities, exposing people to toxic air pollution."