ExxonMobil denies allegations of violations at Baytown, Tex., refinery

By the OGJ Online Staff

HOUSTON, May 3 -- Activist groups alleged Tuesday ExxonMobil Corp.'s 508,000-b/d Baytown, Tex., refinery -- the nation's largest -- has a history of persistent pollution problems, including repeated violations of state and federal law.

ExxonMobil disputed those claims. It said, "Our environmental record is a good one, and we continue to make improvements." It added that the report appeared to contain a number of misrepresentations about how the plant operates and its history.

The study, commissioned by the Sustainable Energy & Economic Development (SEED) coalition and released by the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club and Public Citizen's Texas office, also claimed the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) had failed to address the alleged problems.

"This is bad news for Texans who want clean air," said Peter Altman, SEED executive director. "What this report makes clear is that major polluters can repeatedly violate our clean air laws, neglect to fix persistent problems, under-report or fail to report vital information -- and the TNRCC will sit back and let them do it."

SEED said the report was based on records from the refiners dating between 1984 and 2000.

It alleged that it found repeated and persistent accidental release and related problems; failure to report problems and emissions; underestimation of problems and emissions; failure to properly maintain emissions monitors; and possible violations of federal law on reporting and modifications.

The report claimed TNRCC had failed to issue notices of violations, pursue violations regarding improper reporting, conduct independent reviews of emissions and other reporting, and keep accurate records of refinery operations and compliance history.

Erin Rogers, Coordinator of the Alliance for a Clean Texas, a coalition of environmental, consumer, and religious organizations, said, "The problems at ExxonMobil are part of a larger problem with the TNRCC's apparent interest in protecting the polluters it is supposed to regulate. Most recently, the agency has written and promoted a series of amendments which undermine legislative reforms that protect public health."

Altman said the groups are asking the US Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the refinery. "In addition to the violations of state law, we believe that ExxonMobil may be illegally making major modifications to the plant without obtaining the necessary permits."

ExxonMobil said it has made substantial investments to reduce emissions at the refinery over the last 30 years.

It said, "Hydrocarbon emissions from the Baytown refinery have been reduced by more than 90% since 1970. The Baytown refinery voluntarily applied for and received in 2000 an environmental permit from TNRCC for all of its grandfathered facilities.

"Even though these facilities were not required to be permitted, they still met stringent control requirements and have been part of the refinery's continuous effort over the years to reduce overall emissions.

"We are currently designing and implementing new control equipment to make further substantial emissions reductions as required by both this voluntary permit and by the new nitrogen oxide rules recently adopted by TNRCC to control ozone."

ExxonMobil said at their request, it allowed members of the SEED coalition to tour the refinery and review its operations in February. It said SEED did not allow it to comment on the allegations before the report was released.

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