Texas-based oil refining company Pelican Refining Company LLC has been fined $12 million for felony violations of the Clean Air Act. It's the largest-ever criminal fine in Louisiana for violations of the Clean Air Act.
But it's not just anywhere in Louisiana: the violations took place at a refinery in Lake Charles, which sits in a region known as Cancer Alley for the abnormally high cancer rates that coincide with the concentration of industry in the area.
The Department of Justice said in a press release that Pelican admitted to several violations, including the following:
- Pelican had no company budget, no environmental department and no environmental manager;
- In order to comply with a permit issued under the Clean Air Act, the refinery was required to use certain key pollution prevention equipment, but that equipment was either not functioning, poorly maintained, improperly installed, improperly placed into service and/or improperly calibrated;
- It was a routine practice for over a year to use an emergency flare gun to re-light the flare tower at the refinery designed to burn off toxic gases and provide for the safe combustion of potentially explosive chemicals; because the pilot light was not functioning properly, employees would take turns trying to shoot the flare gun to relight the explosive gasses;
- Sour crude oil was stored in a tank that was not properly placed into service and remained in the tank after the roof sank;
- A caustic scrubber designed to remove hydrogen sulfide from emissions was bypassed.
At least two Pelican employees also pleaded guilty to negligence, including Byron Hamilton, the Pelican vice president who oversaw operations at the Lake Charles refinery. He faces up to one year in prison and a $200,000 fine for each of two Clean Air Act counts.
The EPA explains that Pelican was sentenced to pay $12 million in penalties, including a $10 million criminal fine and $2 million in community service payments. Those will fund environmental projects in Louisiana, including air pollution monitoring. The agency said Pelican is prohibited from future operations as well, unless it implements an environmental compliance plan that includes audits by an outside firm and oversight by a court–appointed monitor.
The DOJ press release also quotes Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice: “This corporation operated without even the most basic requirements of an environmental compliance plan and endangered the public and its own employees by implementing unsafe practices in violation of its permit and reporting requirements."