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Texas Penalizes Houston Polluters, But Do Fines Matter?

Wednesday morning, the state approved thousands of dollars in fines against oil refining companies based in Houston. But critics say the fines are paltry and don’t deter pollution.

pasadena pollutionPasadena air pollution

In what’s an almost monthly ritual, the three members of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved fines against alleged polluters. The commission approved a total of almost a million dollars in fines this month alone against 75 companies and regulated entities — though the actual total was $681,870 because of “deferred penalties.”

One case involved a $52,000 proposed penalty against Marathon Petroleum for a benzene release in Texas City. Marathon agreed to take new precautions to prevent such leaks in the future.

But disagreeing with a penalty of $9,775 was Houston-based refiner Citgo. The state alleged the company had waited too long to report a big leak of chemical vapors from a Corpus Christi plant. Citgo said it didn’t deserve a fine.

“There was no evidence the alleged 15 hour delay in reporting the incident impaired the agency’s review of the incident or that Citgo knowingly or intentionally falsified information in the report,” said Paul Seals, a lawyer who argued Citgo’s case before the TCEQ.

The commission wasn’t moved and approved the fine. But critics have long argued that fines in the thousands of dollars matter little to big oil companies making billions.

In 2011, new state rules more than doubled the potential penalties for certain pollution violations. But News 88.7 reviewed the latest year-end reports and found that penalties assessed against polluters in Texas have actually fallen from a total of $14 million in 2009 to just 10 million last year.

Meantime, as the oil and petrochemical business has boomed in Texas, air pollution statewide is up with reported illegal pollution increasing 10 percent last year, according to state reports.

 

TCEQ 2014 Annual Report

 

TCEQ 2014 Annual Report (PDF)

TCEQ 2014 Annual Report (Text)

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Dave Fehling

Dave Fehling

Director of News and Public Affairs

As Director of News and Public Affairs, Dave Fehling manages the radio news operation at Houston's NPR station. Previously, he was a reporter at the station, covering the oil & gas industry and its impact on the environment. He won top state honors for in-depth and investigative reporting as well...

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