The Trump administration’s push for a settlement of a long-running pollution complaint against a Norco chemical plant is a win for the environment.
Shell Chemical LP agreed to install $10 million in pollution monitoring and control equipment at its Norco chemical facility after federal regulators accused the energy giant in a lawsuit of violating the federal Clean Air Act at that location for about 20 years.
The agreement approved in federal court in New Orleans also includes civil fines of $350,000, with $87,500 of that amount going to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.
Longtime critics of the Norco facility feel that the financial penalty is a slap on the wrist, given that earlier demands by the U.S. government were above $300 million.
That’s a big gap, even if the new equipment will be a considerable investment. The company has made other financial commitments over time, including buyouts of homeowners near the plant, to control emissions and limit the facility's environmental impact.
But the final consent decree also requires aggressive monitoring and public reporting of emissions at the site.
“That’s less than the health care bill for some families,” Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental group, said of the small penalties. “It’s completely pathetic, and that alone shows how toothless this consent decree is.”
We can’t help but agree with St. Charles Parish Councilman Paul Hogan, who said he was “somewhat concerned” about the new consent decree, particularly because the civil penalty was on the “low side."
It “probably will not act as a big deterrent to others who may be polluting our air,” he said.
Larger fines are one way to make sure that environmental regulations are followed in future.
If it is a compromise, the consent decree should result in more protection for local residents and the environment.
The new administration has made much of its push for repeal of many regulations, a position popular with the energy and petrochemical industries, but laws like the Clean Air Act are very much on the books.
Louisiana’s vast petrochemical complex from Baton Rouge south to metropolitan New Orleans is a huge economic engine. But it is also an industrial belt, where significant levels of emissions — often flared off, as at Norco — are part of the price paid for the products produced there.
Deregulation does not mean “no regulation,” as this action by the Trump administration reminds us.
We count upon not only regulators like DEQ and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but also responsible operators, to make petrochemical manufacturing safe for workers — and for residents of the Louisiana communities who count those plants as neighbors.