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State sues over Deer Park fire

Too big to ignore.

Late Friday, the state of Texas sued Intercontinental Terminals — the Houston-based company whose petrochemical storage facility in the suburb of Deer Park caught fire last weekend and burned for days, sending a dramatic plume of black smoke over the nation’s fourth-largest city.

The lawsuit, filed in state district court on behalf of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, alleges that air pollution released during the fire is a violation of the Texas Clean Air Act.

It seeks a permanent injunction and civil penalties that “could exceed $100,000.”

“The state of Texas works hard to maintain good air quality and will hold ITC accountable for the damage it has done to our environment,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement. “ITC has a history of environmental violations, and this latest incident is especially disturbing and frightening. No company can be allowed to disrupt lives and put public health and safety at risk.”

Were you able to read that statement with a straight face? Then read this.

The TCEQ, the agency responsible for protecting the state’s environment and public health, has been criticized for letting large corporate polluters off with a slap on the wrist. An analysis of its enforcement record by an environmental nonprofit found that the agency imposed penalties on violators in just 3 percent of cases. ITC appears to have benefitted from the lax enforcement. In 2016, for instance, the company released more than 1,500 pounds of benzene — a carcinogenic chemical — for over five days and failed to notify the state agency within the mandated 24-hour deadline. The fine: roughly $4,000.

I’m just saying. Maybe some day when there aren’t new fires breaking out every time an old fire gets put out, we can get to the bottom of what happened here. And then sue these assholes out of existence. More broadly, maybe we can demand that our state take enforcement of environmental regulations seriously. If they had done so before, maybe we wouldn’t be in this position now. The Chron has more.

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5 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    A lawsuit is just useless and expensive virtue signalling by Ken Paxton. They polluted. They didn’t mean to, but they did. Just send them a bill for a couple hundred thousand, or whatever the fine might be, with a $ .55 stamp and a return envelope for them to mail payment.

    This is the equivalent of Ralph Wiggam saying, “look, I’m helping!”

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    Kuff,

    If we followed your logic of “sue these assholes out of existence,” after a while, there would be no businesses, no jobs, no economy, nothing. Based on that sentiment, we should have sued most automakers out of business for faulty airbags. People died! Sue the assholes out of existence!

    This is great until no there are no new cars, and no parts to fix our old cars, because all the companies got sued out of existence.

    Trust me, ITC is going to pay bigly for this. Actual damages plus lawsuits, plus state and federal fines plus loss of income for however long it takes to rebuild, plus paying employees to work when the tank farm isn’t actually productive, etc. This is going to sting.

    This was an older plant, built under older standards where the distance from one tank to another was allowed to be less than it is now. When new tank farms are built, new rules apply, the tanks are spaced out better so cascading failure isn’t so easy to happen.

  3. J says:

    The point is that there needs to be better regulatory pressure that causes companies dealing with hazardous products to take due care in handling those products. If a given company can’t get its act together under a more onerous regulatory regime, it should go out of business. And then a more responsible company will take its place. Isn’t that how the vaunted market’s supposed to work?

  4. C.L. says:

    @Bill… Re: the litigation argument. Here’s my take on it – sue the folks that are producing faulty products or who haven’t taken the necessary steps that’d prevent their neighbors from dying due to toxic releases or plant fires, and the companies that will step in on that market share will be those that aren’t killing their patrons or neighbors.

  5. […] C.L. on State sues over Deer Park fire […]