NEWS RELEASE PRESS RELEASE
OIL, CHEMICAL & ATOMIC WORKERS INT'L UNION, AFL-CIO
For Immediate Release: August 10, 1998
Contact: Rick Abraham, (713)869-0774 Texans United
Mark Wenzler, (202)797-8600 Trial Lawyers
for Public Justice
EPA and Harris County Join Citizens
in Opposing Bush's TNRCC Settlement
Crown Refinery Settlement Proposes Inadequate Penalties
and Won't Stop Violations
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the
Harris County Pollution Control Department have now gone
on record opposing a controversial settlement between the
Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC)
and Crown Central Petroleum Company.
The EPA and Harris County objections to TNRCC's
proposed settlement, or "Agreed Order", mirror those
previously raised by citizens groups. The Agreed Order
has been criticized by Texans United and other
environmental groups as a politically motivated
"sweetheart agreement" that would minimize Crown's
expenses and fail to stop pollution violations.
A recently released letter from EPA's Regional
Administrator to the TNRCC states, "...the overall
penalty proposed in the Agreed Order is insufficient to
deter Crown Central from future violations." According to
the EPA, the settlement "does not contain any stipulated
penalties to ensure compliance" and "fails to reflect the
economic benefit that Crown Central has gained through it
years of non-compliance."
The EPA questions the appropriatness of TNRCC's
"administrative" action and suggests that the TNRCC join
EPA in addressing Crown violations in a "judicial forum."
Crown was one of ten companies which, in November of
1997, joined Governor Bush's much touted "voluntary"
program to reduce air pollution. "Governor Bush's TNRCC
appointees have obviously rewarded Crown for making the
Governor look good", said Texans United Director Rick
Abraham. "Apparently, it doesn't matter that the company
has been breaking the law and hurting families for at
least seven years."
The environmental groups Texans United, the Sierra
Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and several
Pasadena families filed a federal "Citizens Suit" against
Crown in July of 1997 for more than 10,000 hours of
violations of the Clean Air Act. Provisions of the Clean
Air Act allow such lawsuits when government agencies fail
to enforce the law. Citizens claim the TNRCC allowed
Crown's violations to continue for years and only
initiated enforcement action against Crown after the
citizens announced their plans for a lawsuit.
The EPA initiated a separate federal enforcement
action following its investigation which uncovered
Crown's violations, including those alledged by citizens
groups. The TNRCC declined to participate in a joint
enforcement effort with the EPA and the Justice
Department and instead, took its own independent action.
In spite of its pledge to work with the citizens to stop
Crown's illegal pollution, the TNRCC negotiated the
agreement with Crown behind closed doors.
TNRCC's agreement grants Crown a lengthy period of
time to study its problems and pick its own remedies.
"TNRCC's proposed penalty of $650,000 is a small fraction
of the amount Crown saved by failing to fix its refinery
and comply with the law," according to citzens' attorney
Mark Wenzler, with Trial Lawyers for Public Justice,
TNRCC agreement fails to penalize Crown for more than
half of its violations and fails to require Crown to
replace their antiquated Sulfur Recovery Unit (SRU) which
is the sourse of many of Crown's pollution problems."
The Harris County Pollution Control Department
(HCPCD) stated in an August 3 letter to TNRCC, "Given the
close proximity of Crown to many homes and businesses,
and Pasadena ISD schools, a reliable back-up SRU is
essential." TNRCC's proposed penalty is also described as
"inappropriately low" and TNRCC's proposal to have Crown
conduct additional studies would have "limited benefit",
according to HCPCD Director Rob Barrett. His letter
requests that TNRCC "hold or withdraw" the proposed
Last week a federal judge dismissed the "Citizen
Suit" against Crown, claiming that the agreement between
TNRCC and Crown prevented the case from being heard.
Citizen groups accuse the TNRCC of proposing a settlement
with Crown in order to undermine their lawsuit and
protect Crown's profits. Attorneys for the citizens are
filing a motion for reconsideration with the court.
Governor Bush's TNRCC appointees are scheduled to
vote on the proposed Agreed Order on August 26 in Austin.
Should they decide to finalize the Agreed Order, Crown
will still face EPA's enforcement action and a $50
million dollar damage lawsuit filed in state court by
more than a hundred Pasadena residents.
Crown's own records show that it had a major release
of sulfur dioxide nearly every month in 1996 and 1997,
totaling nearly 1,000 tons of excess sulfur dioxide in
those two years. During the first three months of 1998,
Crown's violations reached their highest rate in two
years. Crown's violations now total over 15,000 hours.
Copies of the EPA and HCPCD letters to the TNRCC are available
by fax upon request. Call (713)869-0774.