Texas firms settle federal air pollution charges

Four Texas companies agreed to enter guilty pleas and pay $3.5 million to settle federal charges that they violated the Clean Air Act at two oil and chemical processing facilities in the state, the US Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency jointly announced on Oct. 12.

They and the US Attorney’s Office for Eastern Texas said that information filed in US District Court for Eastern Texas charged KTX Limited and KTX Properties Inc. with negligently releasing hazardous air pollutants after a tank exploded at their Port Arthur chemical and petroleum processing facility on Mar. 31, 2011. The explosion killed one worker at the plant and severely injured two others, DOJ and EPA added.

The two companies authorized two contract workers to perform welding on piping connected to a tank at the plant, but failed to properly drain, isolate, and decontaminate the tank and connecting equipment as required by Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, according to the plea agreement.

It said that the welding work ignited vapors, causing the tank to explode and release hazardous air pollutants into the environment. Because the defendants had failed to properly inspect and maintain the tank pursuant to generally accepted industry standards, it collapsed, spilling burning product and severely injuring two workers. A third worker was killed when the rails and ladder from the collapsing tank fell on his head, the plea agreement said.

The information also charged Crosby LP and Ramsey Properties LP with failing to monitor leaks of ground-level ozone producing air pollutants at their chemical processing facility in Crosby, Tex., from 2008 until 2012. Pursuant to the factual basis, the defendants also admitted that they falsified records and reports for these Title V permit requirements to EPA and the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality certifying the facility complied with the permit requirements, DOJ and EPA said.

They said that the plea agreement requires the four companies to pay $3.3 million in criminal fines and s $200,000 community service payment to the Southern Environmental Enforcement Network. SEEN will use that money for hazardous air release prevention and emergency response training to state and local environmental and law enforcement agencies, DOJ and EPA said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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