Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott Tuesday took legal action against four Houston-area chemical plants for violating Texas environmental laws. The case is the first in Texas arising out of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) initiative to cut air pollution at chemical plants across the nation.
According to documents filed in Travis County district court today (Tuesday), operations personnel at Lyondell Chemical Co., Equistar Chemicals, Millennium Petrochemicals Inc., and Millennium Petrochemicals GP repeatedly failed to prevent the release of harmful pollutants into the atmosphere. The Office of the Attorney General decided to seek civil penalties after its settlement negotiations with the four companies and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) reached an impasse earlier this year.
"Texas will vigorously enforce environmental laws that protect the health and safety of its citizens," said Attorney General Abbott. "Industrial growth must be balanced with environmental stewardship in order to ensure a bright future for our state. We are committed to working with industry leaders to protect the quality of our air, water, and natural resources for future generations."
The Attorney General's investigation revealed that the four facilities, located in La Porte, Channelview and Chocolate Bayou, released unauthorized harmful emissions, such as volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide, into the atmosphere over a long period of time. The suit alleges the companies either ignored the long-term release of such pollutants or did very little to remedy these chronic problems over time. For example, investigators found that Millennium may have allowed its pressurized rail cars to vent uncontrolled chemical emissions directly into the atmosphere.
The companies' self-reporting indicates that Equistar and Millennium failed to implement required detection and repair programs to address leaks at valves, connectors, pumps and other components. According to the companies' reports, thousands of components were ignored for many years. In some cases, entire plant units were never monitored.
Under the EPA initiative, affected states and industry leaders attempt to improve air quality and meet environmental standards by settling long-standing disputes with alleged polluters. For years, the Houston area has been designated an ozone non-attainment zone. Polluters in these areas are required to implement widespread controls and technological innovations to sharply curb emissions that lead to ozone formation in the air, commonly known as "smog."