By Anna Hrybyk, Program Manager
Last Friday, LDEQ finally hit Exxon Baton Rouge in its pocketbooks, though this settlement hardly even comes close to a slap on the wrist. The $2.4 million settlement covers violations going back to 2004 and includes a $60,000 fine for the June 2012 30,000 pound benzene spill. Reading through the settlement, I was at times pleasantly surprised, groaning in disgust and utterly disappointed.
Let’s start with the pleasant surprises:
This is only the second time LDEQ has fined Exxon Baton Rouge. On LDEQ’s database, there is only one penalty listed for $7,000 in 2004.
There were several violations for accidents “below reportable quantities.” It seems LDEQ has finally caught on that even though the facility claims that an accident released pollution “below reportable quantities” it still signifies a failure to maintain or employ pollution control systems.
LDEQ has finally taken notice of the EMBRRF’s propensity to release pollution through atmospheric vents and safety valves as a violation of the Clean Air Act.
LDEQ has penalized the company for multiple instances of unreported emissions, failure to accurately report emissions and discrepancy of quantity of emissions between reports.
LDEQ fined Exxon for a failure to maintain a minimum degree of air monitoring data availability for many units on many occasions. This means that the ExxonMobil complex did not have its internal air monitors working for at least 90% of the time as required by law.
Groaning in disgust:
LDEQ fined Exxon just $60,000 for the June 2012 spill of over 30,000 pounds of cancer-causing benzene. That works out to be $2 per pound of benzene. How is that going to keep them from doing the exact same thing again? It is cheaper to pay the fine after the fact than prevent it from happening again.
The fines. Here was an opportunity to get more air monitors closer to the plant so that emergency responders do not have to rely on self-reports from the facility, especially one proven to not report emissions accurately. Well, another opportunity wasted by our LDEQ.
$1 million is going back to Exxon for their own Spill Prevention program whose activities are not specified. Why is the richest company in the world allowed to take back half of the penalty for their own unspecified use???
A piddly $100,000 is going to Rebuilding Together Baton Rouge for home improvements like weather proofing “prioritized on homes in the immediate vicinity of the ExxonMobil facilities” so that “should a shelter in place be called by authorities, these improvements help ensure these houses can effectively be sealed.” LDEQ implies here that homes surrounding the facility are in poor shape and cannot prevent chemicals from getting trapped inside their homes, making shelter in place orders more dangerous especially for the little ones trapped inside. This is true. But for the 60,000 people living within two miles of the ExxonMobil facilities, what can $100,000 do? A little weather stripping and some new windows for 5 homes? That is an insult to the folks who are continuously exposed to Exxon’s violations 24-7.
$25,000 is going to the Baton Rouge Green Association to “enhance the environmental health of a neighborhood near the Baton Rouge Refinery.”
If LDEQ really wants to enhance the environmental health and safety of the neighborhoods around the Exxon facilities, they would not give Exxon back the penalty money and use the entire $2.4 million to relocate those that are too close to a facility that clearly has no incentive to stop violating the law over and over again.