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St. Bernard Parish Council Passes Resolution for Enforcement of Environmental Laws

(St. Bernard Parish, LA)

In a first of its kind resolution from St. Bernard Parish, the council today voted 7 – 0, unanimously asking “the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA to enforce state and federal environmental laws and monitoring requirements.” Clean Air Act laws have been unenforced for years in the parish, as noted by federal Judge Sarah Vance in the citizens’ suit against ExxonMobil.

“We showed the council that Exxon has violated the law over 2,500 times and that DEQ and EPA have let those violations sit in the files with no penalties and no enforcement,” said Denny Larson of the National Refinery Reform Campaign.

Ken Ford, President of the St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality submitted written questions to the DEQ, which provided misleading responses to him and to the parish council. Explaining DEQ’s duplicity was an important part of persuading the council to take action.

The resolution is the first time that the DEQ and EPA have been officially put on record in the parish for the agencies’ failure to protect St. Bernard residents from polluters like ExxonMobil.

“If I had burned tires 2,500 times, there’s no question that I’d be cited and maybe thrown in jail,” said Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “Exxon should be treated the same way.”

Background: Later this week, citizen groups will argue before Federal Judge Sara Vance that the ExxonMobil refinery in Chalmette, LA, has violated the Clean Air Act repeatedly since it “fixed” the problems that caused large toxic releases in the beleaguered Parish. Exxon’s legal team, on the other hand, will tell the judge the case should be dismissed even though it has not met deadlines for new equipment to prevent continuing excess pollution events.

The Clean Air Act empowers each affected member of the community to “commence a civil action on his own behalf,” i.e., to protect his or her own health and his or her own community. If the state or federal government fails to enforce the law, this clause means that citizens can sue for enforcement.

This case has national importance because it paints a shocking picture of the local effects of the Bush Administration’s environmental policies for oil refinery neighbors. Because government agencies – the EPA and state Department of Environmental Quality – failed to act, local residents have been forced to sue the beleaguered refinery in an attempt to stop the rampant pollution.

According to the lawsuit filed by Tulane Law Clinic: “These violations resulted in the illegal release of tons of sulfur dioxide into the air of Plaintiffs’ community due to the refinery’s faulty waste gas processing system. The most recent of these discharges occurred on February 3, 2007…. Not only are these violations reasonably expected to continue, they are continuing. Moreover, Chalmette Refining is already in violation of the Consent Decree, failing to meet its March 31, 2007 deadline to resolve any start-up related issues with operation of the requisite New Flare Gas Recovery System.”

The St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade have previously won a ruling that Exxon is liable for over 2000 violations that Louisiana DEQ failed to enforce.