Violations of the federal Clean Air Act can lead to hefty fines, and even heftier spending on improvement plans, as ExxonMobil was reminded yesterday: the company settled with the Department of Justice, the EPA, and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality for a civil fine of $2.5 million and an agreement to spend approximately $300 million on air pollution improvements.
ExxonMobil agreed to install and operate air pollution control and monitoring technology to reduce harmful air pollution from eight of its petrochemical manufacturing facilities in Texas and Louisiana. The settlement resolves allegations that ExxonMobil violated the Clean Air Act by failing to properly operate and monitor industrial flares at their petrochemical facilities, which resulted in excess emissions of harmful air pollution.
Once fully implemented, the pollution controls required by the settlement are estimated to reduce harmful air emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by more than 7,000 tons per year. The settlement is also expected to reduce toxic air pollutants, including benzene, by more than 1,500 tons per year, the EPA says.
In order to minimize the waste gas sent to the flares, Exxon will create waste minimization plans for each facility. At four of the facilities, Exxon will operate flare gas recovery systems which minimize the amount of waste gas sent to the flares by recovering and recycling the gases before they are sent for combustion in a flare. The flare gas recovery systems will allow ExxonMobil to reuse these gases as a fuel at its facilities or a product for sale. In order to improve combustion efficiency, ExxonMobil must also install and operate instruments and monitoring systems to ensure that gases that are sent to flares are efficiently combusted. ExxonMobil will also perform air quality monitoring that is designed to detect the presence of benzene at the fence lines of four of the covered plants.
Environmentalists Say It’s Not Enough but Pruitt Says It Shows Commitment
Some environmentalists say the settlement is insufficient punishment for violations by the giant oil company that go back 10 years. But EPA administrator Scott Pruitt used the settlement announcement to tout the EPA’s commitment to “enforce the law and hold those who violate it accountable.”
Pruitt continued, “As this agreement shows, EPA is dedicated to partnering with states to address critical environmental issues and improving compliance in the regulated community to prevent future violations of the law.”
The deputy head of the EPA’s law enforcement office, Patrick Traylor, says the agreement underlines the Trump administration’s plans to continue enforcing environmental laws. “That’s not just my message, that’s the message straight from the top of the organization. This administration is absolutely committed to the enforcement of the law, with prudence and excellence,” he says.
Traylor also made it clear that the Trump administration continues to care about the vitality of the companies, writes Bloomberg
. Jeff Wood, acting head of the environment division at the Justice Department, told reporters (via The Hill
): “These two companies, in the pursuit of their businesses, didn’t comply with some of our environmental laws. But these companies have cooperated with us, and are resolving these violations, and these settlements bring these companies back into compliance.”
An Exxon spokesman said the company has worked closely with the EPA to address concerns and improve flaring efficiency.
In a separate announcement, Denver-based PDC Energy Inc.
agreed to pay $22.2 million after storage tanks were found to be leaking smog-forming compounds.
Image: ExxonMobil flare, Flickr Creative Commons, Luis Escalante