CLINTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department announced Thursday that Equistar Chemicals LP will pay more than $125 million to address hazardous waste violations at seven plants in the U.S.
Equistar Chemicals is a wholly owned subsidiary of Lyondell Chemical Co. and is a leading producer of ethylene and propylene, known as olefins. The company recently reached an agreement with the EPA, the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and other agencies as part of an industrial sector initiative for the olefins industry. According to a press release from Lyondell, the agreement resolves compliance issues involving storage of wastewater, leak detection and repair programs, recordkeeping and flare operation at seven Equistar olefins plants in four states between 2000 and 2006.
Equistar will pay $2.5 million in civil penalties to the EPA that will be divided among the federal government and participating states of Iowa, Illinois and Louisiana. The company reportedly is implementing programs to ensure compliance at each of its olefins facilities and agreed to fund $6.56 million in supplemental environmental projects including a vent recovery project at its Channelview, Texas, plant, and other community-based projects.
The Clinton plant is included in the agreement, as well as Equistar sites in Morris, Ill.; Alvin, Channelview, Corpus Christi, Chocolate Bayou and La Porte, Texas; and a plant in Lake Charles, La., that is no longer operational.
The settlement comes in the wake of an investigation by the EPA’s National Enforcement Investigations Center at Equistar’s Channelview, Texas and Morris, Ill. facilities. According to an EPA news release, the EPA identified “extensive Clean Air Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and Clean Water Act violations,” during the inspections. The release states the inspectors also found Equistar had violated laws requiring the company to immediately report spills and releases of hazardous substances to federal and state emergency response centers.
The consent decree, lodged in federal district court in Illinois, requires Equistar to invest in comprehensive control and operational measures expected to significantly reduce air, water and hazardous waste pollution from the seven manufacturing facilities.
“Equistar is committed to meeting or surpassing the requirements of all regulations,” said Jim Bayer, senior vice president of manufacturing. “We have worked diligently in recent years to resolve these issues while fully implementing our Operational Excellence standards. The enhancements already in place at our olefins plants have resulted in improved reliability and environmental performance and enable us to better manage our business today and tomorrow.”
According to the company press release, Equistar has invested more than $250 million over the past five years to upgrade its facilities to meet or exceed regulatory requirements and to reduce volatile organic compounds emissions, including over $70 million in environmental programs and projects that “go above and beyond regulatory compliance.”
The EPA states Equistar already has initiated action to correct the regulatory violations identified and will continue to implement enhancements to address “widespread deficiencies.” Under the first 18 months of the settlement, Equistar is required to conduct a number of separate environmental audits of its operations to identify any additional problems, report findings and proposed corrective measures to the EPA and state regulators and fix the problems.
Company officials say that among the investments made by Equistar at its Clinton plant to further reduce air emissions is a commitment to new technologies such as infrared cameras to detect emissions not recognizable by traditional methods. “Equistar is now among the industry leaders in using this infrared camera technology, although it is not currently required under state or federal regulations,” the Equistar press release states.
The company says plant employees also have devised and implemented a reduced-flaring program that reduces environmental emissions by minimizing the material sent to the flare during planned process shutdowns and start-ups. In addition, the plant reportedly has increased its staff of environmental professionals to help monitor compliance programs.
"We want the community to know that we are committed to being in full compliance with all regulatory requirements," said Courtney Ruth, Equistar’s Clinton plant manager. "Every employee here recognizes that as a responsible community partner our Clinton plant must continue to perform at the very highest level in the areas of safety and environment," he said.
The consent decree is subject to a 30-day comment period and final approval by the court. A copy of the consent decree is available on the Justice Department web site at http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.