The groups claim that Chevron Phillips has repeatedly violated the Clean Air Act at its Cedar Bayou chemical plant in Baytown, Texas by releasing more than a million of pounds of excess air pollutants since 2003, including toxic chemicals such as benzene and 1,3-butadiene.
The Cedar Bayou facility is located next to Interstate 10, about 25 miles east of downtown Houston. It is the largest of Chevron Phillips's domestic manufacturing facilities, producing over six billion pounds of chemicals annually.
The Chevron Phillips Chemical facility in Baytown, Texas (Photo courtesy Chevron Phillips)
"The effects of pollutants released from the Cedar Bayou plant can be felt as far away as downtown Houston and beyond," said Dr. Neil Carman, a chemist and the Clean Air Program director for the Lone Star Chapter of Sierra Club.
"Like many companies in Texas, Chevron Phillips has repeatedly violated its own permit limits by emitting a wide range of harmful pollutants into the air from the Cedar Bayou plant," said Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas. "Because the state of Texas has failed to stop such violations at Cedar Bayou and elsewhere, citizen groups have had to step up and enforce the law themselves."
The Clean Air Act contains a "citizen suit" provision, Metzger explains, that allows private citizens affected by violations of the law to bring an enforcement suit in federal court if state and federal regulators do not.
Chevron Phillips' permits contain both hourly and yearly limits on the amounts of pollutants it can emit into the atmosphere.
The lawsuit alleges that equipment breakdowns, malfunctions, and other non-routine incidents at the Cedar Bayou complex have resulted in the release of more than a million pounds of pollutants into the surrounding air, frequently in violation of legal limits.
A single such "upset" or "emission event" can result in the release of tens of thousands of pounds of air pollutants in a matter of minutes.
Upsets are allegedly unpreventable emissions events at industrial facilities that cause them to emit more pollution than allowed by their permits. Annual upset emissions from a facility can equal many times more air pollution than the facility’s annual emissions from routine operations.
The groups' analysis of Chevron Phillips's own emission event reports submitted to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality since 2003 shows:
Air quality in Harris County, where Houston is located, regularly violates standards for ground-level ozone set by the EPA.
The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring Chevron Phillips to end its Clean Air Act violations. In addition, Chevron Phillips faces civil penalties of up to $32,500 or more per day for each violation of the Clean Air Act.
Chevron Phillips Chemical says, "As an industry leader, we are committed to promoting economic growth in a safe, secure and environmentally responsible manner."
In "Sustainability Statement" on its website, the company says, "Total air emissions from U.S. facilities were reduced 22 percent between 2001 and 2007."
Chevron Phillips Chemical produces olefins and polyolefins and is a principal supplier of aromatics, alpha olefins, styrenics, specialty chemicals, polyethylene pipe, and proprietary plastics.
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.