Pollution lawsuits: Officials, community leaders call on Texas attorney general for action in high-profile cases

Here's what we know

HOUSTON – Several elected officials and community leaders gathered Tuesday morning to call on Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to move aggressively on several high-profile pollution cases impacting local communities.

Harris County Attorney Christian D Menefee said quicker actions need to be taken to prevent the companies accused of violating the law by causing pollution in the air and water in neighborhoods.

“These actions by the state of Texas prevent local officials from being able to fully advocate for their communities,” Menefee said. “These companies violated the law and polluted our air and water, and put the people who live nearby at risk. Accountability helps us protect our neighborhoods in the future.”

He said neighborhoods like 5th Ward reportedly has higher incidents of cancer, asthma and lung diseases in residents.

According to a release, in 2019 and early 2020, Paxton filed lawsuits against Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC), TPC Group, ExxonMobil and Valero for illegal air pollution at petrochemical facilities in Harris and Jefferson counties, which restricted the ability of county officials and nonprofit groups to do so. Since the Attorney General filed those lawsuits, these same four companies have allegedly released 639,000 more pounds of illegal pollution.

On May 22, 2019, Environment Texas, the Sierra Club and the Port Arthur Community Action Network notified Valero of plans to sue for more than 600 violations of numerous hourly and annual limits on emissions at the company’s Port Arthur refinery during the previous five years, as well as dozens of violations relating to improper operation of the refinery’s large industrial flares, according to the release. Because of Paxton filed his own suit, it has prevented Environment Texas, the Sierra Club and PACAN from moving forward with their own lawsuit.

On March 17, 2019, tanks containing a flammable liquid hydrocarbon mixture at the ITC facility in Deer Park caught fire, according to the release. The fire created a plume over the Houston area and caused residents to shelter in place.

On July 31, 2019, an explosion occurred at ExxonMobil’s Baytown chemical plant, igniting a fire that released 220,000 pounds of polypropylene, which created a thick, dark cloud of smoke visible for miles. At least 37 people sustained injuries, according to a release.

On November 27, 2019, an explosion at TPC’s Port Neches plant injured several workers and led to the evacuation of nearly 60,000 people in the surrounding area.

“I don’t understand why Attorney General Paxton is taking so long,” said Luke Metzger, Executive Director of Environment Texas. “Not a single one of these four cases seems anywhere close to resolution. Texans need the state’s top law enforcement officer to stop playing with their health and safety and enforce the laws we have.” “Mr. Paxton, I invite you to visit these affected communities like my hometown of Port Arthur; to trade places, breathe our air and speak with folks who suffer from lung disease, cancer and heart disease,” said John Beard of the Port Arthur Community Action Network. While you do nothing, these facilities continue to release toxic pollution into the air, and Texans’ lives and health are at risk.”

KPRC 2 has reached out to the office of Ken Paxton for a response.

About the Author:

Award-winning journalist, mother, YouTuber, social media guru, millennial, mentor, storyteller, University of Houston alumna and Houston-native.