(Baton Rouge) The third resounding victory this year for pollution victims suing Chalmette's ExxonMobil came yesterday, as Federal Judge Sarah Vance issued an order requiring the refinery to stop leaking benzene, a dangerous carcinogen." Chalmette Refining, L.L.C. shall ensure that emissions from the benzene tanks do not exceed the [permit] limits…" wrote Judge Vance in her decision, "and shall promptly report any violations of this order to the court".
FEMA is preparing to put up trailers for displaced New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish residents near the refinery, including areas in which air samples have detected dangerous releases from the refinery.
The order, issued yesterday, stemmed from the plaintiffs’ resounding victory last month in which Judge Vance ruled that ExxonMobil had regularly exceeded the limits on three of its benzene tanks. "We have suffered for years with terrible odors and sickness," said Ken Ford, President of the St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality. “At last we will have some relief.” Cancer cases near the refinery are high, with as many as 17 people on one block having suffered or died from the illness.
"This is really a victory for the rule of law," said Adam Babich, Director of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic. "Key provisions of environmental law prohibit businesses from ignoring their permit limits, even when it is inconvenient or expensive to comply." The new order reflects Judge Vance’s October 14th ruling that the law requires businesses to do whatever is necessary to assure compliance’ with Clean Air Act permits. The clinic represented the St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade in the law suit.
The community groups turned to Tulane law students for help after years of futile complaints to federal and state regulators. "The victory sheds light on ExxonMobil’s repeated violations of the law," said Denny Larson of the Refinery Reform Campaign, "as well as on the Environmental Protection Agency and Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s absolute failure to enforce the law. If the people of Chalmette had not sued Exxon and won a court order, the refinery would still be violating the law and Louisiana DEQ would be their partner in crime."
The citizens were vindicated in the ruling despite the Department of Environmental Quality’s attempts to work against them. Instead of siding with the citizens in the suit, the department filed a brief on behalf of ExxonMobil, encouraging the Judge to ignore the law and the refinery’s permit limits. The October ruling which enabled the injunction was a stark illustration of the Louisiana DEQ’s failure to enforce the law.
The ruling comes just a week after CEO Lee Raymond was called to Congress to testify about the corporation’s high profits. "Just when we thought ExxonMobil couldn’t get any richer, they made $10 billion in a single quarter," said Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. "Exxon need to invest in the Chalmette Refinery beyond what the judge is requiring. They have the money. If they don’t do it now, when will they?"
The groups have long maintained ExxonMobil’s profits result from improper maintenance of their refineries. Rust covers principle units of the Chalmette refinery, and a visual review of the tanks reveals many to be poorly maintained. The groups have worked for the past three years to pressure Exxon to use its skyrocketing profits to clean up the refinery in Chalmette. At last year’s shareholder meeting, fourteen institutional investors place an open letter to Lee Raymond in the Dallas Morning News, requesting that the board look into the numerous problems at the Chalmette facility.
The groups are particularly concerned about the possibility of evacuees living in trailers near the refinery that has been found guilty of violating the Clean Air Act. "Even with this injunction, there are unresolved issues and Exxon continues to pollute through their flares," said Ms. Rolfes. "FEMA is endangering people by moving them from a flood to a fire."
Plaintiffs are available for interviews. Please call the media contact numbers listed above.
The ruling will be posted on www.labucketbrigade.org later today.