Shell to Pay Out Over Violations
by: Laurie Johnson, April 23, 2009 10:04:25 pm
The settlement comes as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club and Environment Texas in January of last year. The suit alleges Shell's Deer Park Facility violated the Clean Air Act more than 1,000 times.
Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger says those violations resulted in the emission of five million pounds of air pollutants.
"This is the first case ever in Texas in which citizen groups filed a lawsuit over so-called upset emissions — equipment breakdowns or malfunctions or other non-routine occurrences."
Under the terms of the settlement, the facility must cut those breakdowns and malfunctions by 80 percent over the next three years. That translates to a reduction of about 750,000 pounds per year.
Metzger says Shell also agrees to pay $5.8 million in civil penalties.
"So this proposed settlement will lead to a record penalty that is the largest in Texas history and the largest in the United States for a Clean Air Act citizen suit against a single facility."
The settlement was negotiated between the environmental groups and Shell with input from the Environmental Protection Agency and the City of Houston.
Josh Kratka is with the National Environmental Law Center and helped negotiate the terms.
"We expect that this penalty will not only deter Shell from engaging in the same type of conduct in the future, but will also send a message to other companies in the refining industry in Texas and throughout the Gulf Coast. One of the things we're most proud of is that this penalty — every dollar of it will be plowed right back into the community for local environmental, public health and education projects."
The $5.8 million will specifically fund the retrofit of diesel burning school buses as well as a pilot program to install solar energy panels on public buildings.
Shell officials wouldn't talk to us on tape, but did release a statement saying they share the goal of the Sierra Club and Environment Texas to improve air quality and are particularly pleased with the disbursement of funds to benefit Harris County children.
The EPA must review and sign off on the terms within 45 days before U.S. District Judge David Hittner can approve the settlement.
Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.