The Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a settlement with ExxonMobil Oil Corporation (ExxonMobil) to resolve claims arising from a 2013 fire at an oil refinery in Beaumont, Texas that killed two employees and injured ten others.
New Jersey Democrat Lisa McCormick said the light fine is symptomatic of injustice befalling America’s working middle class in the age of Trump billionaires.
In a complaint filed Wednesday, March 6, 2019 with the settlement, the United States alleges that the company violated Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act, which requires measures to prevent accidental releases of extremely hazardous substances that can have serious public health and environmental consequences.
The April 17, 2013, fire at the refinery occurred when workers used a torch to remove bolts from the top, or “head,” of a device called a heat exchanger. The torch ignited hydrocarbons released from the head.
EPA’s inspection following the incident disclosed violations of Section 112(r) and of the regulations known as the Chemical Accident Prevention provisions.
“The deaths and injuries resulting from the 2013 fire at ExxonMobil’s Beaumont refinery are a terrible tragedy,” said Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark, a former lobbyist hired by President Donald Trump to run the Environment and Natural Resources Division.
At Kirkland & Ellis, Clark represented the United States Chamber of Commerce in lawsuits challenging the federal government’s authority to regulate carbon emissions and the Environmental Protection Agency’s “endangerment finding”.
Clark characterized US efforts to regulate the greenhouse gasses that cause deadlt climate chage as “reminiscent of kind of a Leninistic program from the 1920s to seize control of the commanding heights of the economy.”
While Clark said the fine “sends a clear message to companies handling hazardous substances in their operations that they must take the necessary steps to protect their workers under the environmental laws or face the consequences,” New Jersey Democrat Lisa McCormick said the penalty is less than a year’s wages for the employees who were killed and injured.
“When companies shortcut the safety requirements that have been put in place in high risk situations, people can die,” said McCormick. “The Trump administration makes companies understand that there is a small price on the lives lost, so they don’t worry about doing anything to save lives in the future.”
Under the consent decree, ExxonMobil will pay a $616,000 civil penalty, hire an independent third party auditor to conduct a compliance audit of ExxonMobil’s procedures for opening process equipment at ten different process units at the refinery.
The oil giant will also purchase a $730,000 hazardous materials Incident Command Vehicle (ICV) for the Beaumont Fire & Rescue Service (BFRS).
McCormick questioned the integrity of deal making by the Trump adminsitration.
Kayem Foods, Inc. paid a $138,281 civil penalty to put to rest claims that it mishandled more than 10,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anhydrous ammonia is a pungent gas with suffocating fumes that is used as a fertilizer.
When exposed to humans, it can rapidly cause dehydration and severe burns if it combines with water in the body. Symptoms can include breathing difficulty; irritation of the eyes, nose or throat; burns or blisters. Exposure to high concentrations can lead to death.
The consent decree was one of many that McCormick said are being rushed through with little public comment and court scrutiny. Information about settlements is available at: https://www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees.
McCormick compared the light penalties levied against corporate polluters and killers to ‘Get Out of Jail Free; cards used in the game Monopoly.
“America mustt once again stand as a beacon of justice for all, so Congress must outlaw these Get Out of Jail Free cards that are handed our to corporate polluters,” said McCormick. “We should start treating these greedy thugs like the killers and thieves they are, because blind justice is not impressed with a fancy suit.”
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