A Texas federal judge has fined Citgo Petrolem Corp. more than $2 million after the petroleum giant’s 2007 convictions for illegally operating uncovered oil tanks at its Corpus Christi refinery and intentionally allowing migratory birds to die in the tanks. U.S. District Judge John D. Rainey, who sits in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, ordered the company and a subsidiary, Citgo Refining & Chemicals Co., to each pay $500,000 for each of the two Clean Air Act (CAA) violations they were convicted of. Citgo Refining was ordered to pay another $45,000 for violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).
A jury convicted Citgo in June 2007 of operating two open top tanks without installing the proper emission controls required by federal law at the Corpus Christi East Plant Refinery. The tanks were used as oil water separators. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said they were not equipped with either a fixed-roof, vented to a control device, or had a floating-roof. The DOJ said residents of nearby communities were exposed to emissions of benzene, a known carcinogen, as well as other volatile organic compounds. Robert G. Dreher, who heads the DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said in a statement:
Citgo’s illegal and careless operation of two massive tanks without emission controls exposed residents — the company’s neighbors — in the Oak Park and Hillcrest communities of Corpus Christi to unacceptable health impacts from toxic chemical emissions. I am grateful to the prosecutors, the victim specialists and the federal and state investigators for fighting tirelessly for justice for these residents who deserve to breathe clean air and to be protected under the nation’s Clean Air Act.
Judge Rainey deferred ruling on victim restitution and a remedial order. He will issue a written order on both issues within 90 days, according to the DOJ. Citgo says it will appeal. Citgo was indicted by a federal grand jury in August 2006. The MBTA charges were severed and tried separately. Less than a month after the CAA conviction, Judge Rainey found Citgo guilty of three misdemeanor counts of unlawfully taking and aiding and abetting the taking of migratory birds. Citgo took the position that the MBTA is limited to just poaching, hunting or trapping birds and therefore doesn’t apply to commercial activity and moved to vacate the migratory bird conviction. But Judge Rainey let the conviction stand in September 2012, saying Citgo continued with its commercial practices and knew for years that birds were dying in the tanks, and still did nothing to prevent it.
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