Tulane Press Release: Citizen groups give Chalmette Refining notice of their intent to sue for violations of the Clean Air Act and the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act

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Chalmette, LA – November 4, 2003 – Today, a letter from the St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade notified a refinery in Chalmette, Louisiana ⎯ Exxon Mobil’s Chalmette Refining, L.L.C. ⎯ that it has violated the Clean Air Act and the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act.  Under federal law, this notice letter provides the refinery with 60 days to resolve the matter cooperatively before the citizens file a lawsuit in federal court.  

“For over 25 years, I have lived with the air pollution problems in St Bernard Parish.   I have sought the help of the St. Bernard Police Jury, St. Bernard Parish Council, LDEQ, and EPA and I have spoken at numerous public meetings about the air quality in our Parish.  Everyone agrees that the people in St. Bernard need help, but no one has come forward to give a helping hand,” explained Ken Ford, president of St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality.   “After talking it over with the members of our group, we decided to ask the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic for help because the government will not take any action to clean up St. Bernard Parish.”

The notice letter provides specific examples of violations by the refinery that fall into four broad categories: (1) emitting quantities of Sulfur Dioxide, Nitrogen Dioxide, Nitrogen Oxide, Volatile Organic Compounds, and other harmful pollutants that far exceeded the refinery’s permitted levels;  (2) emitting quantities of benzene that far exceeded the refinery’s continuous emissions limits for that substance;  (3) failing to properly maintain the flares that burn off dangerous emissions; and, (4) failing to file the reports required by law each time that an illegal emission occurs.

“We are suing Exxon Mobil because their violations of the law threaten human health,” said Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.  “For the past several months Exxon Mobil has refused give us any information or even respond to our letters. Their repeated failure to communicate with us left us no choice but to sue.”

National groups are also taking notice of the situation in Chalmette:  “With the Bush Administration rolling back more and more of our clean air laws, the only choice left for the people of St. Bernard Parish is to go to the courts and file citizen suits,” said Denny Larson of the Refinery Reform Campaign.

Members of St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade live in Chalmette and suffer health risks from breathing air that Chalmette Refining has illegally contaminated.  These neighbors are also at risk of injury from explosions and chemical emergencies at the refinery; and odors that emanate from the refinery damage the neighbors’ quality of life.  Through this action, the neighbors seek to obtain an order that would require the refinery to comply with federal and state emission limits and reporting requirements, and to require Chalmette Refining to pay civil penalties to the U.S. Treasury.

“Frequent malfunctions at the refinery are endangering the health of Chalmette citizens,” said Andre Shiromani, a student attorney at the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic.  “In July 2003 alone, there were at least 18 days in which various equipment at the refinery malfunctioned.  These malfunctions released tons of dangerous pollutants into the air, including more than 500 thousand pounds of Sulfur Dioxide – a pollutant that EPA considers to be extremely hazardous because it causes respiratory problems and can be life threatening.”

For a copy of the notice letter, please call the Clinic at 504-865-5789.

The St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality was formed to address pollution issues in the parish.  For more information, call 504-271-4410 or visit http://www.environmentwatchdog.com.

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade is a 501(c)(3) environmental health and justice organization working with communities that neighbor the state's oil refineries and chemical plants.  The EPA-approved “bucket” is a simple, community friendly tool that fenceline neighbors use to take air samples.   For more information on the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, visit http://www.labucketbrigade.org or call 504-269-5070.

The Tulane Environmental Law Clinic trains effective and ethical lawyers by guiding 26 third-year law students through actual client representation and represents clients who could not otherwise afford competent legal help on environmental issues.  By giving a voice to clients who would otherwise not be heard, the Clinic broadens public participation in environmental decisions.  For more information, visit the Clinic’s website at http://www.tulane.edu/~telc.

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