LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley awarded $2,000,000 worth of community service payments to Louisiana entities from the Lake Charles Pelican Refining Company.
The payments are the result of a sentence handed down in U.S. District Court to Pelican Refining Company. Pelican was sentenced on December 15, 2011 to pay $12,000,000 in penalties, which includes $10,000,000 criminal fine and $2,000,000 in community service payments.
The payments will go toward environmental projects in Louisiana, including air pollution monitoring.
"The Pelican Refining case is a reminder that there is a great harm that comes to the community when environmental laws are not allowed," said U.S. Attorney Stephanie A. Finely.
The criminal fine is the largest ever in Louisiana for violations of the Clean Air Act.
The Pelican Company will also be on five years' probation. This will prohibit them from future operations unless it implements an environmental compliance plan, which included independent quarterly audits by an outside firm and oversight by a court appointed monitor.
Monday's community service payments were presented to the following entities:
$1,000,000 - National Fish & Wildlife Foundation
$500,000 - Louisiana State Police Emergency Services Unit
$500,000 - Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality
"This money will go a long way. It gives us the ability to keep up with equipment to keep up with training and things we use every day to investigate things. That is a win/win situation and we are using a company's money that performed poorly. This was an environmental hazard at its worst for that company," said Colonel Mike Edmonson, LA State Police.
The investigation began in 2006. Pelican, headquartered in Houston, would later admit at the guilty plea that the company knowingly committed criminal violations of its operating permit at the refinery located in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Pelican also pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for submitting materially false deviation reports to DEQ, the agency that administers the federal Clean Air Act in Louisiana.
Pelican further admitted to the following:
Pelican had no company budget, no environmental department and no environmental manager;
In order to comply with a permit issued under the Clean Air Act, the refinery was required to use certain key pollution prevention equipment, but that equipment was either not functioning, poorly maintained, improperly installed, improperly placed into service and/ or improperly calibrated;
It was routine practice for over a year to use an emergency flare gun to re-light the flare tower at the refinery designed to burn off toxic gases and provide for the safe combustion of potentially explosive chemicals; because the pilot light was not functioning properly, employees would take turns trying to shoot the flare gun to relight the explosive gases;
Sour crude oil was stored in a tank that was not properly placed into service and remained in the tank after the roof sank;
A caustic scrubber designed to remove hydrogen sulfide from emissions was bypassed;
A continuous emission monitoring system (CEMS) designed to measure the hydrogen sulfide levels in refinery emissions was not working properly; and Pelican provided false information to the states of Louisiana and Texas concerning laboratory testing of asphalt.
Byron Hamilton, the Pelican vice-president who oversaw operations at the Lake Charles refinery since 2005 from an office in Houston pleaded guilty on July 6, 2011, to the crime of negligently placing persons in imminent danger of death and serious bodily injury in violation of the Clean Air Act as result of negligent releases at the refinery. On October 31, 2011, Pelican's former asphalt facilities manager, Mike LeBleu, also pleaded guilty to a negligent endangerment charge under the Clean Air Act.
Finley said they hope Pelican will be an example to other companies that they won't hold back when it comes to protecting the Sportsman's Paradise.
"It's a beautiful place that is rich in natural resources. We want to keep it that way. That is the message we really want to send - we are watching and will vigorously prosecute these cases and we take it very, very seriously," said Finley.
*Information also provided from a press release from the United States Department of Justice