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Chevron Phillips will settle Texas pollution suit for $121M

The gas giant has agreed, as part of the settlement, to stop releasing thousands of tons of harmful air pollution in Texas.

(CN) — U.S. officials touted a deal the government struck Wednesday with the Chevron Phillips Chemical Company to eliminate approximately 158 tons per year of hazardous air pollutants and 1,528 tons per year of volatile organic compounds.

Chevron Phillips will pay an estimated $121.4 million under the terms of the consent decree filed in Texas, where the company is accused of failing to properly monitor equipment at three facilities leading to the release of thousands of hazardous air pollutants.

Though Chevron Phillips did not return a request for comment, the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency allege that the company regularly “oversteamed” flares at plants in Cedar Bayou, Port Arthur, and Sweeney, Texas. A complaint filed simultaneously with the consent decree says operating protocols are meant to ensure the efficient combustion of hazardous air pollutants and volatile organic compounds in gases sent to flares.

As a result of its failure to monitor those flares, however, Chevron Phillips released excess emissions, including greenhouse gases and benzene, a carcinogen known to cause leukemia and harmful reproductive effects in women.

Chevron Phillips commits to properly monitoring such flares as part of the settlement, on top of making upgrades and performing compliance measures to the tune of $118 million. In addition the company will pay a $3.4 million civil penalty.

Larry Starfield, acting assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, told reporters during a media background call on Wednesday that the serttlement “represents an important step forward in the agency’s efforts to “address access learning and improve air quality for the communities affected.” 

The deal marks the federal government's seventh judicial settlement regarding flaring at ethylene plants since 2013. If the deal is approved after a 30-day period of public comment, Chevron Phillips must install pollution-control and emissions-monitoring equipment at the facilities, including monitors that will measure certain pollution levels in the air and transmit the data to a website that the public can access.

Todd Kim, assistant attorney general for the DOJ Environment and Natural Resources Division, said during the media call that the settlement will promote environmental justice and its impact will be “substantial.”

He said it reflects the Justice Department’s commitment “to reducing the impacts of harmful pollutants on overburdened communities and fighting climate change by rejecting the emission of greenhouse gases.”

Environmentalists have been studying the worsening pollution in Texas for years, with the state's oil boom singled out as the catalyst. As part of Wednesday's settlement, Chevron Phillips says it will take steps to minimize the amount of waste gas sent to flares, including by creating waste minimization plans for each facility.

The company is based in Texas, a joint subsidiary of Chevron Corporation and Phillips 66.

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