Texas jury hits Chavez-owned gas pumper for emissions breaches

Rob Luke Jun. 28, 2007, 9:34am

Ronald J. Tenpas

AUSTIN -- A Texas federal court has sustained two major breaches of the Clean Air Act against petroleum refiner and retailer CITGO, owned by the Venezuelan government.

A jury in Corpus Christi found CITGO guilty of two felony breaches of the federal Clean Air Act, the U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ) announced in a press release June 27.

The case against CITGO was first brought jointly by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's division of Environment and Natural Resources, plus other state and federal agencies. It was investigated by the Texas Environmental Crimes Task Force.

Abbott's office charged that CITGO broke the CAA by not installing proper emission controls on two open-top tanks. The tanks were located at CITGO's Corpus Christi East Plant Refinery.

The breaches released benzene, a known carcinogen, into the surrounding air, the EPA alleged. The August 2006 indictment charged CITGO with four felony violations of the CAA and five misdemeanor breaches of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).

"Today's convictions are a strong signal to the industry that emissions controls are not optional and those who knowingly disregard the regulations will face the consequences," said Ronald J. Tenpas, Assistant Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources.

The company faces fines of up to $1 million and five years' probation at a sentencing hearing scheduled for Oct. 18.

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