How one of the worst polluters in Texas gets away with it
How do corporate polluters get away with it? A new story by Public Health Watch and Investigative Reporting Workshop shows how the Oxbow plant in Port Arthur did everything it could to fool the state's air monitors and game the regulatory system meant to protect health and safety.
The 85-year-old plant, owned by billionaire William Koch, pollutes into Port Arthur, Texas, in Jefferson County, east of Houston, an average of 21.6 million pounds a year of "very toxic" sulfur dioxide, which Environmental Protection Agency scientists concluded in 2010 was even more harmful than they'd known, especially to people with who already have asthma, children and seniors. The asthma rate in Port Arthur is 13.4 percent, compared with the national average of 8 percent.
Oxbow, worth more than $2 billion, could have installed new pollution control equipment at the plant called “scrubbers” to remove the sulfur dioxide and comply with stronger health-based protections. But they didn't want to spend the money, so they didn't. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality had the authority to require Oxbow to install scrubbers, but they didn't.
TCEQ allowed the old, dirty plant to stay old and dirty because it hadn't been upgraded in more than 50 years. Why remove pollution when you can game the system? Oxbow used a technique called "dispersion," blowing their emissions higher into the air so they'd seem less concentrated to the lone monitor TCEQ operates nearby. (Very industrial Jefferson County has only 12 in all.) A lawsuit alleged Oxbow also slowed operations to reduce their emissions when the wind blew north toward the monitor. “They got the problem to go away without having to fix the issue that they’re releasing a ton of pollution,” says Colin Cox with the Environmental Integrity Project.
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