PORT ARTHUR, Texas—The state of Texas has decided to try to match NELC’s past successes in holding a major air polluter fully accountable for breaking the law.
On May 22, NELC attorneys informed Valero Energy Corporation that they intended to file suit within 60 days over repeated violations of Clean Air Act emissions limits at Valero’s oil refinery in Port Arthur, Texas.
NELC’s notice, sent in conjunction with attorneys from Lone Star Legal Aid on behalf of Port Arthur Community Action Network (PA-CAN), Environment Texas, and Sierra Club, alleged more than 600 violations of permit limits that collectively released nearly 1.8 million pounds of unauthorized pollution since May 2014.
Under the Clean Air Act, a 60-day waiting period before filing suit is required after citizens provide formal notice of alleged violations, to allow the state or federal government the opportunity to step up to the plate and enforce the law with their own suit.
On the 58th day after NELC served the Valero notice, the state of Texas did just that—filing a lawsuit that precisely tracks the enforcement roadmap set out in NELC’s notice.
Texas’ suit will preempt citizen enforcement so long as it is “diligently prosecuted.” However, given the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s notoriously poor enforcement record, NELC attorneys and the three citizen groups will be watching very closely.
“We are going to have to watchdog Texas’ suit to make sure the state aggressively enforces the Clean Air Act and holds Valero fully accountable,” explained NELC Senior Attorney Josh Kratka.
According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, around 36,000 people, as well as five schools and more than 20 churches, are within a 3-mile radius of the Valero refinery. Living in such proximity to the massive complex, residents fear they are being repeatedly exposed to harmful chemicals, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, fine particulates, and those defined by the EPA as “hazardous air pollutants.”
“Valero’s past and ongoing violations of its clean air permits have directly affected the quality of life, health, and safety of residents in Port Arthur and its West Side community,” said John Beard, president of PA-CAN.
“A slap on the wrist won’t cut it. We are now calling on the state to uphold our right to breathe clean air. Our lives—and our children’s lives—depend on it.”