History of Violations and Complaints at the Beaumont Mobil Complex
The Mobil complex is consistently listed in the nation's top 10% of worst polluting refineries and chemical plants.
Within Texas, Mobil's emissions are 385% above the state's refinery average. Residents in the nearby neighborhoods have been complaining of headaches, nausea, eye and nose irritation, and other health problems for years. Research by neighbors brought additional problems to light; Rev. Malveaux said the neighbors were shocked to learn that "when there was threat of hurricane or bad weather that the refineries were in threat of losing petroleum which meant they have to dump all of their waste product in the storm drains." He summed up the attitude of many of the neighbors by saying, "Once we got to asking questions, we found out there was more information being hidden from us than there was being given to us." While four enforcement orders and penalties were issued from 1987 to 1993, no further enforcement orders have been issued since. Unfortunately, the violations and unhealthy emissions continue to worsen.
Sampling of Complaints Received by TNRCC:
- July 1, 1996 Complaint about odors and a cloud coming from vicinity of Mobil plants. Investigation more than two days after complaint was made. Complaint unconfirmed.
- October 30, 1996 Complaint about terrible odor making complainant's eyes and nose burn. Investigation one hour after complaint was made. Category four [with five being the worst] odors detected. Complaint unconfirmed.
- June 18, 1997 Complaint about odors that cause nausea. Investigation less than one hour after complaint was made. Complaint unconfirmed.
- September 8, 1997 Complaints about offensive odors believed to have caused an individual working in the area to become unconscious. Investigation one hour after complaint was made. Category one odors detected. Complaint unconfirmed.
TNRCC Grants Permits Despite Troubled Compliance history
Since 1997, Mobil has repeatedly violated health standards in its emissions of two key air pollutants: sulfur dioxide
and hydrogen sulfide--the "rotten egg gas."
These exceedences did not hinder TNRCC from granting a permit in December 1999 for increased pollution of these two chemicals. Only four months before TNRCC issued the new permit, agency monitors had recorded levels of sulfur dioxide far over the TNRCC's standard of 320 parts per billion. In August 1999, TNRCC registered sulfur dioxide from the Mobil refinery at 967 and 1163 parts per billion. The Beaumont Mobil Refinery ranks #1 in sulfur dioxide emissions compared to other Texas refineries. Similarly, Mobil has exceeded hydrogen sulfide standards for years, with no enforcement action by TNRCC. From December 1998 through July 1999, TNRCC documented almost continuous problems with hydrogen sulfide exceedences. Yet the new permit allows emissions of 72 more pounds of hydrogen sulfide each year.
TNRCC Shuts the Public Out of Permit Hearing
TNRCC justified its issuance of Mobil's new pollution permit without allowing the public the opportunity for a hearing by claiming that the agency had only issued a minor amendment to the existing Mobil permit. TNRCC also claimed that Mobil was offsetting emissions increases with emissions reductions from other facilities that were forced to reduce emissions under federal law. In April 2000, PACE and the Lone Star Sierra Club filed a formal Civil Rights Complaint against TNRCC-- asking the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to intervene and force TNRCC to abide by state and federal environmental and civil rights laws.
Environmental Justice problems at TNRCC
African American communities living near the Mobil Oil Beaumont refinery typify the communities of color burdened in this state by disproportionate environmental impacts because of TNRCC's permitting and enforcement processes. The discriminatory impact created and sanctioned by TNRCC's actions is a clear violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. As of January 2000, more civil rights complaints (12) had been filed in the state of Texas than in any other state. Of the nine pending cases, all involve air pollution.
Realizing the seriousness of the environmental racism problems in Texas, the US EPA awarded TNRCC with a $100,000 environmental justice grant in October of 1998. According to the EPA, the money was to be used to "enhance the state's effectiveness in complying with Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by demonstrating to the impacted communities that Texas will aggressively seek environmental equity for all citizens and ensure that the voices of the poor and misrepresented are heard."
The TNRCC used the grant to set up an advisory panel with just four community members--only one of which has experience with Title VI. Agency representatives on the panel outnumber the people representing the affected communities. To date, the Advisory Panel has had three meetings: one in Austin, one in Corpus Christi, and one in Beaumont. The meeting in Beaumont was closed and Rev. Malveaux was told he could not attend. Rev. Malveaux said that he believes that the TNRCC isn't doing its job for the citizens of Texas. "The agencies that are supposed to protect and serve end up regulating the people and protecting and serving big industry."
Join Texas PEER soon for another stop on the Texas Toxic Tour.
- Neil Carman and Raul Alvarez from the Sierra Club, for all the background research material.