In March 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reached a significant environmental justice Clean Air Act Settlement with a chemical manufacturing plant located in Port Arthur, Texas, a community that EPA has identified with a disproportionately high exposure to pollution and attendant health and environmental concerns that impact a vulnerable population. Flint Hills Resources (Flint Hills) agreed to pay $350,000 in civil penalties and to spend an estimated $30 million to reduce fugitive pollutant emissions and on a diesel retrofit or replacement project. Flint Hills also will purchase and install technology to promote energy efficiency in low income area homes and will make its boundary (or "fence line") monitoring data available to the public.1
Port Arthur is one of ten Environmental Showcase Communities chosen by EPA for environmental justice projects because EPA identified a vulnerable population that is disproportionately affected by industrial pollution. More than 50 percent of Port Arthur's residents are African-American and Hispanic. The city also has many chemical plants and refineries and is the site of a hazardous waste incinerator. Other Environmental Justice Showcase Communities include:
Staten Island, New York;
Kansas City, Missouri;
Kansas City, Kansas;
Salt Lake City, Utah;
Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach, California; and
EPA has committed to spending $1 million in those communities over the next two years to help alleviate their environmental justice concerns.
While EPA's plans for each of those communities differ, in Port Arthur, EPA Region 6 is in the process of developing and implementing a comprehensive, cross-media project to begin to understand and address the cumulative effects of multiple environmental impacts in Port Arthur in response to requests from community-based organizations. The Flint Hills settlement also serves that goal, as the company has agreed to spend $350,000 on an Environmental Mitigation Project to install environmentally beneficial energy efficiency technologies such as windows, doors, lighting, and appliances intended to reduce the energy demand in low income homes, with priority given to applicants who live in the Westside neighborhood of the City of Port Arthur.2 As a second Environmental Mitigation Project, Flint Hills will implement the City of Port Arthur Diesel Emissions Reduction Project that will retrofit, repower, replace, or retire many of the City's diesel-engine fleet, including dump trucks and garbage trucks, on which Flint Hills is required to spend at least $2 million.3
Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance assurance, has pledged that EPA's environmental justice enforcement efforts will not end with the Flint Hills settlement, but that "EPA will continue to focus on tough pollution controls and cutting edge technologies to reduce the burden of air pollution on Americans who need it most."4 In conjunction with the recent 20th anniversary of President Clinton's signing of Executive Order 12898 first announcing the federal government's environmental justice policy,5 facilities that are located in EPA's Environmental Justice Showcase Communities and other similar communities around the country may well see EPA enforcement actions driven by environmental justice concerns.
For a copy of the consent decree, click here.