For Immediate Release: May 19, 1997
A coalition of environmental groups and citizens represented by Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ) announced today that they intend to sue Crown Central Petroleum for thousands of violations of Clean Air Act standards at Crown's Pasadena refinery. The coalition includes Texans United for a Safe Economy Education Fund (Texans United), the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and three families who live near the Crown plant. As the Clean Air Act requires, copies of the formal notice were sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State of Texas.
The environmental coalition alleges that Crown has repeatedly violated federal air pollution limits for two sulfur compounds - sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide - since May 1992. Federal law requires that Crown report each one-hour violation of these air pollution limits. Crown's reports show that it has violated the sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide standards more than 12,000 hours since 1992. These violations have often been two to three times higher than the limits set by EPA under the Clean Air Act.
Residents of the Pasadena neighborhood closest to Crown have reported that a yellow fog that stinks of sulfur often hangs over their homes. Texans United member Ranford Denoon has lived a few blocks from the plant for 21 years. "The rotten-egg smell is terrible," Denoon said. "It gets so bad that we can't open our windows. My wife and I have to burn scented candles inside just to cover up the smell," he said.
EPA has listed both sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide as extremely hazardous substances. When inhaled, they both can cause serious respiratory problems, such as wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and other reductions in lung function. EPA recently found that short-term exposure to peak sulfur dioxide emissions can present an "imminent and substantial endangerment to public health" among people with asthma.
"Crown's pollution of the air with sulfurous emissions endangers the health and well-being of hundreds of Pasadena-area families, especially those who live near the plant," said Texans United's Rick Abraham. Abraham held a meeting on May 1 to organize Pasadena residents to address Crown's ongoing pollution. Crown's CEO and plant manager were invited, but declined to attend. Instead, Crown sent a public relations officer to videotape the meeting. Crown's management also failed to attend a follow-up meeting on May 8. "If Crown refuses to take its pollution of our air seriously, then we citizens must take action to force Crown to comply with the law." Abraham will notify Crown officials of the environmental coalition's intention to file a lawsuit at a 1:00 p.m. rally outside the gates of Crown's Pasadena plant today.
The Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC) reached an agreement with Crown in 1995 to settle numerous violations of clean air standards. However, the agreement only penalized Crown for violations up to late 1993, and Crown ultimately paid less than one-fifth of the penalty originally assessed. In addition, the TNRCC agreement failed to make Crown adequately upgrade equipment that has been responsible for the bulk of Crown's excess sulfur emissions.
Neil Carman of the Sierra Club noted that TNRCC is unlikely to make Crown comply with its permit. "The Bush administration has shown that it is unwilling to hold polluters accountable for serious violations of our environmental laws," he said. "TNRCC claims it is tough on polluters, but its failure to hold Crown accountable for years of serious illegal pollution shows that TNRCC - like Crown - is only blowing smoke."
"When polluters fail to comply with the law and regulators do little or nothing about it, it's time for citizens to take action to protect the environment," said TLPJ Environmental Enforcement Attorney Mark Wenzler, who is representing the environmental coalition. "Crown has released tens of thousands of pounds of illegal pollution into the air since at least 1991. Congress empowered citizens to fight this kind of blatant disregard for the environment, and that's what this coalition intends to do."
The potential lawsuit against Crown is one of a series of suits being filed by TLPJ's Environmental Enforcement Project to make polluters comply with the law and pay for violating it. Under the citizen suit provisions of federal environmental statutes, if federal and state governments fail to enforce the law diligently, affected citizens can enforce the law by filing suit in federal court. The letter sent today by the environmental coalition notifies Crown, EPA, and the state that the members of Texans United, NRDC, and the Sierra Club intend to file suit against Crown for injunctive relief, civil penalties, and costs. Under the law, the citizens must wait 60 days after the notice letter before filing suit.