Harris County Files Air Quality Suit Against ExxonMobil in Plant Fire, Local News Media Emphasize Plant History

August 1, 2019

While local news media search to find other environmental citations and lawsuits filed against ExxonMobil‘s Houston plants, Harris County on Thursday filed a lawsuit over “unauthorized emissions” against the Irving-based company for violations of the Clean Air Act during a Wednesday fire at the Baytown Olefins plant that is now out.

Harris County Attorneys Office Environmental Protection Division attorney Rock Owens said of the suit, “I think the new Commissioner’s Court of Harris County has made it very clear that they want vigorous enforcement of the law, especially environmental laws, in Harris County.”

“More importantly they’re seeking an injunction to get a judge to order them to stop these violations from continuing to happen, and that’s where we can see some really meaningful progress,” Environment Texas‘ Executive Director Luke Metzger told the Houston Chronicle.

“Exxon’s been breaking the law and polluting for years.”

Exxon is currently appealing a $20 million fine as a result of a 2017 lawsuit brought by Environment Texas.

In a statement Thursday morning, ExxonMobil said, “Since 2005, ExxonMobil has spent nearly $1 billion on the Baytown complex to improve environmental performance.

“We have reduced total emissions by more than 29 percent and improved our air incident performance, including those that contribute to hydrocarbon flaring, by 76 percent.”

The lawsuit claims the fire caused ExxonMobil’s plant to emit multiple air pollutants, including propylene, benzene and other chemicals.

The company said it has been monitoring the parameters of the plant’s property for hazardous air releases and found none.

The county simultaneously filed for a temporary injunction seeking an order for the plant to comply with the Texas Clean Air Act, the Texas Administrative Code.and the Texas Water Code, according to Houston’s KPRC-TV.

Meanwhile, Houston’s KHOU-TV has posted a number for individuals to call to make a claim if they were “impacted” by Wednesday’s fire, the cause of which has still not been publicly released and is still under investigation.

The station said its research shows the plant has been fined 22 times in the past 10 years with fines totaling $1 million.

Conversely, KPRC said its research found that “two years ago this complex was fined millions for more than 16,000 days of air quality violations.

“This plant specifically had air quality fines in 2015, 2017 and 2019.”

The fire broke out just after 11 am Central Daylight time on Wednesday and caused 37 minor injuries, according to the plant’s manager, with a total of 66 people seeking medical help.

The blaze broke out in an area used to purify the fuel- and plastics-making chemical propylene; the fire has been extinguished.