"Oil Giant Citgo Gets Off Easy in Criminal Case"

"A foreign oil company convicted of polluting a Texas community's air with dangerous chemicals has gotten off easy in a criminal case that could undercut the prosecution of environmental crimes in the United States. The case revolves around Venezuelan-owned Citgo Petroleum’s decade-long violation of the federal Clean Air Act at its refinery in Corpus Christi.

In 2007, the Citgo refinery became the first to be criminally convicted of violating the Clean Air Act by a U.S. jury. The refinery had spent a decade illegally operating two giant oil-water separator tanks without any emission controls. Every day for 10 years, nearby residents breathed noxious fumes emitted from the roofless tanks, including the carcinogen benzene.

It took another seven years, until February, before the judge in the case finally sentenced the company. U.S. District Judge John D. Rainey fined Citgo a little more than $2 million — a penalty prosecutors said would not deter Citgo from committing future crimes since, they argued, the company made $1 billion in profit as a result of its illegal operation. Corpus Christi residents were disappointed with the fine, but disappointment quickly turned into fear and confusion when the judge refused to announce in court that day his ruling on how much restitution must be paid to the refinery’s neighbors.

On April 30, people who had been awaiting a decision for years finally found out what they would receive from Citgo: absolutely nothing."

Priscila Mosqueda reports for the Center for Public Integrity May 14, 2014.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014