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Media: Press Release

Landmark Study Uncovers Violations and Enforcement Failures at ExxonMobil Baytown Refinery Investigation Indicts TNRCC Enforcement, Bush Legacy as a Failures

May 2, 2001

Peter Altman, SEED Coalition (512) 479-7744 or 750-0373
Dr. Neil Carman, Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club (512) 472-1767
Erin Rogers, Alliance for a Clean Texas (512) 663-4008

An exhaustive study of the ExxonMobil Baytown refinery has found a history of persistent pollution problems at the plant, including repeated violations of state and federal law as well as repeated failures by the Texas environmental agency to address even ongoing problems. The study "ExxonMobil Out of Control", was commissioned by the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition and released by the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club and Public Citizen's Texas office.

"This is bad news for Texans who want clean air," said Peter Altman, Executive Director of the SEED Coalition. "What this report makes clear is that major polluters can repeatedly violate our clean air laws, neglect to fix persistent problems, under-report or fail to report vital information - and the TNRCC will sit back and let them do it."

The report, which studied tens of thousands of records to form its review and conclusions, found at the ExxonMobil Baytown Refinery between 1984 and 2000:

  • Repeated and persistent accidental release (upset) and related problems
  • Failure to report problems and emissions
  • Under-estimation of problems and emissions
  • Failure to properly maintain emissions monitors
  • Possible Violations of Federal Law on Reporting and Modifications

"This report documents what public health advocates and citizens have known for a long time: the TNRCC just doesn't protect public health," said Dr. Neil Carman, Clean Air Program for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club and former state air official. "The agency acts like a cop who watches speeders go by and doesn't even bother chasing them. In the rare instance violations do get issued, the fines are so low there is no incentive to follow the law."

The report found several serious problems with TNRCC's enforcement at the refinery:

  • Failure to issue Notices of Violations when violations have occurred.
  • Failure to pursue discrepancies or violations regarding improper reporting.
  • Failure to use common sense procedures to enforce the law.
  • Failure to conduct independent review of emissions and other reporting.
  • Failure to maintain complete and accurate records of refinery operations and compliance history.

"We don't have to stand for repeat criminals contaminating our air and cops who sleep on the beat," said Erin Rogers, Coordinator of the Alliance for a Clean Texas, a coalition of environmental, consumer and religious organizations working together for a clean environment. "The problems at ExxonMobil are part of a larger problem with the TNRCC's apparent interest in protecting the polluters it is supposed to regulate. Most recently the agency has written and promoted a series of amendments which undermine legislative reforms that protect public health."

The report comes out at a busy time in air pollution politics.

  • The TNRCC is undergoing sunset review and the Senate Natural Resources Committee will take up the Sunset issue on Thursday. Problems raised in the report go to the heart of the sunset debates.
  • Houston is struggling to develop a workable clean air plan at a time when persistent problems cause the ExxonMobil plant to emit excess emissions, and TNRCC enforcement efforts aren't addressing the problem. ExxonMobil is also party to a lawsuit fighting the plan.
  • The report reflects how former Governor Bush's preference for relaxed enforcement and voluntary compliance allowed serious pollution problems to persist. This legacy is even more important as President Bush advocates relaxation of environmental standards and increased state level enforcement of environmental laws.

"This report brings up persistent problems that we can address through Sunset legislation," said Tom "Smitty" Smith, Executive Director of Public Citizen's Texas office. "Texas needs to commit to address chronic maintenance problems, provide enough inspectors to enforce the law, make sure we have inspectors available 24 hours a day, and make sure we follow up on upsets and other unexpected releases. The sunset will be debated within the next two weeks, so concerned citizens should call their Senator."

The groups are also calling on the US Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the problems. "In addition to the violations of state law, we believe that ExxonMobil may be illegally making major modifications to the plant without obtaining the necessary permit," said Altman. "We are sending this report to the EPA and asking for a full investigation both of the ExxonMobil plant and the TNRCC's enforcement actions at the plant."

Note: Alexander Sagady, the environmental consultant who wrote the report, may be reached for questions on the morning of May 2 at (517) 484 2372 and in the afternoon will be at (517) 332-6971.


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