AUSTIN - Environment Texas hailed today's announcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of a settlement to cut illegal air pollution from eight Exxon Mobil chemical plants in Texas and Louisiana. Two of the facilities were subject to a lawsuit by Environment Texas and the Sierra Club, which resulted in a federal judge in April ordering Exxon to pay a $20 million penalty.
"This is a very good settlement," said Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger. "Exxon has been breaking the law and polluting our air for too long. Today's announcement means they'll finally have to make plant upgrades they should have made a long time ago."
Metzger noted that this enforcement case had been in the works for many years. EPA’s new settlement addresses three issues Environment Texas and Sierra Club attempted to address in their lawsuit against the Exxon Baytown facility:
- Inadequate flare gas storage capacity (which means Exxon send far more gas to be flared than it should, creating unnecessary pollution),
- Poor combustion efficiency at the flares (they emit far more pollution than they should when they operate), and
- Inadequate off-site monitoring of emissions.
While EPA’s new Refinery Rule addresses these problems at oil refineries, this settlement specifically focuses on chemical plants, which are not covered by the Refinery Rule. It requires more flare gas storage capacity; more efficient operation of flares; and fence line monitoring for benzene (a carcinogen).
In the Environment Texas and Sierra Club lawsuit, federal district Judge David Hittner rejected the completely unrebutted testimony of the groups' engineering expert, who explained that Exxon was emitting far more illegal pollution than they report because they wrongly assume their flares operate far more effectively (98.5% destruction efficiency) than they actually do in practice. The groups' engineering experts also testified that the few offsite air monitors near the Exxon Baytown facility are inadequate to effectively monitor illegal emissions and that Exxon needed to add more flare gas storage capacity.
Metzger noted that while Exxon will have to invest $300 million in their plants under the EPA settlement, the $2.5 million penalty for eight facilities is far less than what is warranted.