The Louisiana Environmental Action Network has reupped its intent to file a lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corporation alleging that a settlement in early 2014 didn’t ensure that the company would come into compliance with the Clean Air Act.
The notice of intent to sue sent on Jan. 30 is meant as an addition to a previous notice of intent filed on April 22, 2013, alleging violation of the Clean Air Act at the ExxonMobil Chemical Company in Baton Rouge.
ExxonMobil responded that LEAN has had many opportunities to comment on the settlement and even had praise for a portion of it that would handle future penalties. Exxon noted that LEAN executive director Marylee Orr praised the stipulated agreement as being an “objective and transparent system for enforcing environmental regulations.”
The letter of intent’s 60-day notice is required under the Clean Air Act to give the parties a chance to work out a solution without having to take the issue to court. LEAN held off on filing a lawsuit as the company and the state Department of Environmental Quality worked on an ongoing settlement agreement to address a number of issues at the chemical plant as well as other facilities in Baton Rouge and Port Allen, said LEAN’s attorney Adam Babich, director of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic.
A $2.3 million settlement was finalized in January 2014 included penalties, fines, environmental projects and internal improvements at the facilities — $1 million of which went to beneficial projects. All the cash portions of the fine and all of the cash-only donations for beneficial environmental projects have been paid, said Greg Langley, DEQ spokesman.
Those projects include some that were paid early on. That included $50,000 for a study to get better information on the age of cars and on traffic in the greater Baton Rouge area for ozone pollution modeling, as well as $250,000 to DEQ for three monitoring stations on the Mississippi River for early warning if there is a chemical spill, according to DEQ records.
Other money was slated to go to Baton Rouge Green, the East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, and to a program that helps low-income and elderly residents make home improvements. Monthly update reports to DEQ outline that there has been significant progress on many of these projects as well.
“We are surprised by this notice from LEAN as they have had multiple opportunities to review and comment on the comprehensive settlement and stipulated penalty agreement between LDEQ and ExxonMobil executed in 2013,” Stephanie Cargile, public and government affairs manager with ExxonMobil Baton Rouge, wrote in a statement. “All incidents in the notice have been or will be addressed by either the settlement itself or the related stipulated penalty. One of the incidents listed in the notice of intent does not apply to the Baton Rouge Chemical Plant.”
The notice of intent to sue sent Jan. 30 calls the settlement a good first step, but by itself it’s not enough to get compliance with the Clean Air Act. The notice lays out problems that LEAN states should still be addressed by DEQ and ExxonMobil.
Those problems include allegations of continued violations of the Clean Air Act. An attachment to the letter sent by Tulane Environmental Law Clinic lists a number of potential violations from October 2012 to November 2014.
Langley said any additional potential violations included in the letter will be examined and, if they’re valid, will be acted upon.
Another problem raised in the notice of intent to sue is that the previous settlement didn’t include any provisions to have air monitors installed along the company’s fence line so community members can have some assurance they’re not at risk, according to the notice.
Langley said there’s no regulatory requirement for fence line monitoring.
The third problem involves getting better public notification when there are changes made to a settlement after it has been finalized. There is a concern that historically, DEQ has not always insisted on compliance, Babich said.
“We would like it to be more public,” Babich said.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.