Exxon Mobil isn’t above the law

Photo courtesy staticflickr.com

Megan Wade

In her New York Times article, “Exxon will pay $2.5 million for pollution at Gulf Coast Plants,” Lisa Friedman describes what the Environmental Protection Agency is meant to do—protect the environment. On Oct. 24, 2017 the EPA announced that a settlement had been reached with Exxon Mobil, who, as a result, will be paying $2.5 million in fines for flaring gases at eight plants along the Gulf Coast.

According to the settlement, Exxon will spend around $300 million to install gas recovery and new monitoring and pollution control equipment in Louisiana and Texas plants. According to Friedman, “Exxon’s Baytown operation came under scrutiny during Hurricane Harvey this year for releasing toxic pollutants during the storm, which battered refineries and other chemical facilities along Houston’s coastline. In one case, a sinking tank roof at Exxon’s Baytown facility resulted in the release of hazardous gases — including volatile organic compounds and benzene — above permitted levels.” Exxon will spend an additional $1 million to plant trees in Baytown, Texas.

A second settlement was reached on Oct. 24, this one being with PDC Energy, a gas and oil company based in Colorado. PDC Energy was found to have storage tanks that were leaking smog-forming compounds and was also fined $2.5 million. A total of $18 million will be spent to upgrade the company’s technology systems. Both companies were accused of violating the federal Clean Air Act through the release of harmful pollutants. Exxon’s technological improvements are expected to reduce the release of organic pollutants by more than 7,000 tons per year, and air pollutants by more than 1,500 tons per year.

It’s important for the federal government and public administration officials to enforce government laws, even when it is a very large and well-known company. Friedman’s article states, “The [settlement] announcements came as Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the EPA, has been denying accusations by environmental advocates that he is weak on enforcement.”

Public administration officials are responsible for enforcing important laws, so the perception of the public can be extremely important, especially in cases of funding and re-election. Looking at the big picture, the environment division with the attorney general’s office has imposed more than $1.7 billion worth of civil penalties and $2.9 billion in criminal fines since January 2017.

A public administration office can respond positively to scrutiny, by proving with numbers that they are doing their job, and the EPA may be able to work as it was intended despite Scott Pruitt but he’s not making it easy. The head of the EPA stripped a half-dozen scientists and academics of advisory positions Oct. 31 and implemented new rules barring anyone who receives EPA grant money from serving on panels weigh in on scientific decisions.

Pruitt is anticipated to assign several industry representatives to the panels. Unfortunately, he did not enforce any new restrictions to prevent the new advisors from offering guidance on environmental policies that may affect their businesses.