Following a fatal fire at a Mississippi refinery in 2013, a settlement with Chevron has been announced.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) announced a national settlement with Chevron U.S.A. Inc. (Chevron), that requires safety improvements at all its domestic refineries. This resolves claims that the company violated provisions of the Clean Air Act aimed at preventing accidental releases of hazardous chemicals that can have serious consequences for public health and the environment.
The EPA’s initial investigation was spurred by an August 6, 2012 fire involving high-temperature hydrocarbons released in the Crude Unit at Chevron’s Richmond, California refinery. That fire prompted a shelter-in-place order by Contra Costa County officials, endangered 19 employees, and caused 15,000 local residents to seek medical attention. During the EPA’s investigation, Chevron experienced accidental releases of regulated chemicals at two of its other refineries, including a 2013 explosion and fire in Pascagoula, Mississippi that caused the death of employee Tonya Graddy, and a 2013 rupture in El Segundo, California that caused a loss of power and flaring at the refinery.
As part of the proposed settlement, Chevron will spend approximately $150 million to replace vulnerable pipes, institute operating parameters and alarms for safer operation, improve corrosion inspections and training, centralize safety authority within the corporation, conduct a pilot study of safety controls for fired heaters, and make other safety improvements at all its domestic refineries.
“This case demonstrates the importance of performing equipment inspections and maintenance in accordance with environmental regulations,” said EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Assistant Administrator Susan Bodine. “Under this settlement Chevron, U.S.A Inc. will improve their safety systems and monitoring equipment, protecting their employees and the surrounding communities.”
Chevron also will pay a $2.95 million civil penalty and will implement supplemental environmental projects worth at least $10 million in the communities surrounding the refineries in Mississippi, California, Utah, and Hawaii. The overall value of this settlement exceeds $160 million, which makes it the largest settlement in the history of the EPA’s enforcement of the Risk Management Plan Rule under Clean Air Act Section 112r.
“The Clean Air Act’s hazardous chemical risk management program is intended to protect local communities and American workers,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today’s action, taken jointly with our enforcement partners at EPA and the State of Mississippi, strengthens emergency prevention and response systems at Chevron’s U.S. refineries, which will help to protect their workers and the communities in which they live from dangerous chemical accidents.”
The United States’ and Mississippi’s Complaint, filed concurrently with the proposed settlement today in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges violations of Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act. Section 112(r) requires covered facilities to implement a systematic Risk Management Program to prevent accidental releases of dangerous substances, and to meet a general duty of care in designing and maintaining safe facilities.
The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality participated as co-plaintiff, exercising its concurrent authority to enforce the Risk Management Program regulations over Chevron’s Pascagoula refinery. This is the first case in which the United States and a state have jointly brought suit to enforce these provisions.
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