Exxon Mobil has agreed to spend $300 million on facility upgrades to settle charges that eight of its plants in Texas and Louisiana released thousands of tons of harmful pollutants into the air.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials said Exxon will install and operation air pollution control and monitoring technology to reduce toxic emissions, including benzene, from 26 industrial flares at five facilities in Texas and three in Louisiana.
The settlement with the EPA, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality also requires the company to pay a civil penalty of $2.5 million for violations of the Clean Air Act and spend $1 million to plant trees in a city near one plant.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said the settlement “reinforces EPA’s commitment to enforce the law and hold those who violate it accountable. As this agreement shows, EPA is dedicated to partnering with states to address critical environmental issues and improving compliance in the regulated community.”
But one environmental group called the agreement “a slap on the wrist for ExxonMobil,” which earned $11.3 billion in the first nine months of 2017.
“A mere $2.5 million dollars for years of violations at eight facilities is hardly a punishment,” said Adrian Shelley, director of the Texas branch of Public Citizen. “And the corrective measures are things that any well-operated facility should have done years ago.”
“Today’s action by EPA sends a clear message to polluters: Don’t worry about your Clean Air Act violations. The EPA will clear them right up,” he added.
According to the EPA, Exxon violated the Clean Air Act by failing to properly burn off pollutants through the flaring process, resulting in the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that contribute to smog and chemicals that have been linked to cancer.
The settlement requires Exxon to minimize the amount of waste gas that is sent to flares and improve the combustion efficiency of its flares. The EPA said the enhanced pollution controls will reduce harmful emissions of VOCs by more than 7,000 tons per year and of toxic air pollutants by more than 1,500 tons per year.