Extensive upgrades required by NELC’s settlement with Chevron Phillips will help clear the air around the company’s Baytown, TX chemical plant.

Houston, TX – On Jan. 10, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Atlas signed a Consent Decree in NELC’s Clean Air Act suit against petroleum industry conglomerate Chevron Phillips. The suit, brought on behalf of Environment Texas and Sierra Club, addresses chronic air pollution at the company’s 1,200-acre Cedar Bayou chemical plant in Baytown, Texas, one of the largest chemical manufacturing facilities in the Houston area.

This is the second NELC lawsuit in two years to focus on unplanned – but frequent – air pollution “upsets” at petrochemical plants. In 2009, NELC attorneys settled a similar Clean Air Act lawsuit addressing such upsets at Shell Oil’s Deer Park, Texas, refinery and chemical plant complex. Caused by equipment breakdowns, maintenance lapses, and other systemic failures, these upsets commonly release toxic air pollutants into the surrounding communities and, in worst-case scenarios, can cause in-plant explosions. One such explosion, at British Petroleum’s Texas City plant, killed 15 workers in 2005.

Under the consent decree, Chevron is required to immediately decrease its illegal emissions by more than 80 percent, implement extensive operational upgrades designed to prevent upsets, and enhance its monitoring of emissions. Chevron is also required to pay a $2 million penalty to fund an environmental health clinic run by Baylor College of Medicine, which includes a mobile health unit supporting the neighborhoods most directly affected by the plant’s emissions.

The lawsuit, filed in August 2009, alleged that Chevron had committed hundreds of Clean Air Act violations since 2003, releasing an array of toxic chemicals, including cancer-causing agents, into a municipal area whose air is consistently ranked among the worst in the nation.

“Today’s settlement demonstrates once again the crucial role that citizens can and must play in the enforcement of environmental laws in Texas,” said NELC Senior Attorney Josh Kratka.

“This agreement will provide a double benefit to area residents: cleaner air, and a program to treat people with health issues that may have an environmental component.”