HOUSTON, TEXAS—On the heels of the $19.95 million Clean Air Act penalty imposed by a federal judge in NELC’s long-running legal battle with ExxonMobil Corporation, another Texas Gulf Coast oil refinery has agreed to a court-enforced settlement that will dramatically reduce emissions of harmful pollutants and require a substantial penalty payment.
Pasadena Refining System Inc. (PRSI), a subsidiary of the giant Brazilian energy company Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (Petrobras), is charged with committing thousands of violations of the federal Clean Air Act at its Pasadena, Texas, oil refinery east of Houston. NELC attorneys filed suit against the company on behalf of Environment Texas and the Sierra Club in March 2017.
Just a year later, NELC attorneys filed a proposed consent decree in the U.S. District
Court in Houston for review and approval by federal Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt. The settlement would require PRSI to pay a penalty in the amount of $3,525,000 for its repeated and ongoing violations of numerous hourly and annual limits on emissions of fine particulate matter (or soot), sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and other air pollutants over the previous six years, and would automatically assess additional penalties for future excess emissions above PRSI’s permitted limits.
The settlement also imposes specific measures to address the most significant public health threat posed by the refinery. According to research by Environment Texas, PRSI released 70,129 pounds of unauthorized particulate matter in 2016 alone, making it the worst in the entire state of Texas for this type of illegal pollution.
Under the terms of the settlement, PRSI must end its practice of releasing particulate matter and other pollutants directly into the atmosphere every time breakdowns occur at one of the refinery’s major processing units. Instead, a pollution control device must be used to capture pollutants in those situations, to the maximum extent consistent with worker safety.
“The people living near the refinery will benefit from the company’s decision to negotiate a resolution of this case rather than drag out the litigation in court,” explained NELC Senior Attorney Josh Krakta.” “More than $3 million of PRSI’s penalty payment will be used to further improve air quality in the most heavily impacted communities of Pasadena and Galena Park by funding a zero-emission vehicle program for municipal buses and other vehicles.”
Particulate matter is a mix of microscopic particles and liquid droplets, including acids, organic compounds, and metals, that the U.S. EP A has linked to a range of serious health problems, increased emergency room and hospital visits, decreased life expectancy, and aggravated asthma. At least 75,000 people live within a three-mile radius of the refinery, an area that includes approximately eight schools, one Head Start program, and several daycares.
The lawsuit is the fourth case filed by NELC attorneys since 2008 to confront illegal air emissions arising from oil refineries and petrochemical facilities along the Houston Ship Channel.