In March, we aired an episode with our first guest, Mo Aziz, discussing the ITC “Intercontinental Terminals Company” Chemical Plant fire. The fire burned for days and reignited after it was extinguished. Most of Houston wondered what, if anything, would be the penalty for ITC. Based on history, these plants aren’t often penalized effectively enough to encourage them to up their game when it comes to safety and prevention. When a problem repeats itself, it’s time to start looking at better processes.
ITC has numerous encounters with Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). This particular plant fire was really unable to sneak on by Houston as you could see the plume for miles and miles outside of and around Houston. Allergy and asthma flare ups were experienced by many. There were shelters in place for Deer Park, rendering many unable to go to work. Then, there was a breach of a containment wall. Large amounts of toxic chemicals discharged into Tucker Bayou. Air and water quality were a major concern.
It has now been announced that ITC will be charged by Harris County’s District Attorney’s office with 5 misdemeanor counts of water pollution. When I first read this, I was shocked. I thought to myself, “Misdemeanor only?” As I continued to read, I realized what a big deal this was. Previously and often, plants are charged civilly only or incur minor fines from TCEQ. In this case, the DA is charging ITC with criminal charges. Wow!
A spokesperson from the DA’s office has also stated that “This the beginning of our review, not the end,” indicating there are likely more Criminal Charges coming. The current charges are for the 5 days the law was violated and carry a fine up to $100,000 per day.
I looked into whether or not TCEQ has fined ITC and what those fines were if it had. From what I’ve read, TCEQ can attempt to enforce action against a company, but it seemingly goes ignored. When the companies refuse to pay, TCEQ turns it over to the state attorney general’s office. In this most recent case with ITC, the Texas Attorney General filed suit against ITC before the fire was even put out stating that ITC “…has a history of environmental violations.”
I will say there are many arguments by different groups and parties as to why the AG filed (not good reasons according to them) and favor the DA’s Criminal Charges. Many are wondering if the AG will supersede the DA. I’m not going to delve into all of that. I’ve attached links to the articles for you to read if you are so inclined.
For our purpose, quality matters. ITC didn’t have proper processes in place, neither to prevent nor quickly remedy the situation. Whether the AG, DA, or TCEQ wins, I just hope that it’s enough for the chemical plants to take notice and enforce a better quality program to protect its civilian neighbors.