This past May Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas, outlined in The True Cost of Chevron: An Alternative Annual Report the lawsuit his organization initiated against Chevron for its repeated violations of the Clear Air Act.   Less than 15 months later, Environment Texas has declared victory against one of the largest oil companies in the world.  With a lot of good investigative work, litigation, and perseverance, Environment Texas has proved that even the most powerful companies can be reined in by those suffering from their environmental impunity. It’s a victory worth celebrating and learning from.  More from Luke below:  

Texans can all breathe a little easier today because one of the state’s biggest polluters is going to clean up. Two years ago, Environment Texas‘s research uncovered that Chevron Phillips’ chemical plant in Baytown, Texas had violated its clean air permits hundreds of times since 2003, leading to more than one million pounds of illegal emissions. The emissions resulted from so-called “upset” events:  equipment breakdowns, malfunctions, and other non-routine occurrences.

The 1,200-acre Cedar Bayou plant, located just east of Houston, is one of the largest sources of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) among the 275 industrial plants in Harris County.  VOCs emitted by industrial facilities during upset events – most notably ethylene, propylene, 1,3-butadiene, and butenes, which form the vast majority of upset emissions from the Cedar Bayou plant – have been found to play a particularly significant role in causing many high ozone days in the Houston-Galveston-Brazoria area.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion. It can worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. Ground-level ozone also can reduce lung function and inflame the linings of the lungs. Repeated exposure may permanently scar lung tissue.”

Last August, Environment Texas teamed up with the Sierra Club and the National Environmental Law Center to file a citizen suit against Chevron Phillips to force them to clean up. On November 18, we were pleased to announce that we had reached a settlement with the company, which is approved by the federal courts, will result in major changes at the facility. The agreement would require:

•    an 85% reduction in air emissions from “upset” events;

•    extensive operational upgrades;

•    enhanced monitoring of air emissions;

In addition, Chevron Phillips would pay a $2 million penalty for its past violations.  This is the second-largest penalty in an environmental citizen enforcement suit in Texas history, after the 2009 Shell settlement.  The entire penalty payment will be used by the Baylor College of Medicine to fund a multi-year environmental health project in the Houston Ship Channel area.  Baylor will collaborate with existing clinics and hospitals to provide clinical services (including a mobile health clinic) to an underserved population, and will provide continuing education to physicians and other health professionals regarding a comprehensive, integrated environmental health assessment and management approach.