Violations. Last Wednesday, DOJ and EPA announced the lodging of a Consent Decree with ExxonMobil Oil Corporation (ExxonMobil) to resolve alleged violations of section 112(r) of the federal Clean Air Act (Risk Management Program requirements) arising from a 2013 fire at the company’s oil refinery in Beaumont, Texas, that killed two employees and injured ten others. According to the DOJ press release (https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/exxonmobil-pay-civil-penalty-and-take-remedial-measures-resolve-clean-air-act-violations), “[t]he 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 DOJ press release states that “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, and perform a supplemental environmental project (SEP) under EPA’s SEP Policy to purchase a hazardous materials Incident Command Vehicle (ICV), valued at $730,000, for the Beaumont Fire & Rescue Service (BFRS). The auditor will also evaluate the company’s procedures for conducting risk-based mechanical integrity inspections.”
Putting aside the question of whether the civil penalty is excessive or inadequate for violations that resulted in two worker fatalities, the press release reinforces that DOJ and EPA are still out there enforcing alleged environmental violations particularly high-profile violations that have garnered public and political attention. As a former EPA enforcement attorney under both Republican and Democratic administrations, I can attest to the fact that irrespective of the Administration’s priorities, the Agency remains sensitive to public perception that EPA is failing to enforce alleged environmental violations. I also note that the EPA enforcement staff do not lose their “tiger stripes” with a change in administrations. I discuss these concepts and present environmental enforcement negotiation strategies at our ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATORY BOOTCAMP. Remember, no one wants to be the example or the exception to the rule. Don’t lead with your chin!