Environment Texas and the Sierra Club sued the Pasadena Refining System—part of Petrobras—for allegedly exceeding emissions limits. Now, the refinery is having to upgrade systems and pay more than $3 million—as well as having to establish a grant program to help area schools and governments replace vehicles with electrics or hybrids.
It’s not the first time Texas environmental groups have won big against major energy companies. They’re doing it with citizen lawsuits under the Clean Air Act.
“A citizen lawsuit is an opportunity for any party—private group, an organization, a nonprofit—to enforce the laws of the Clean Air Acts if the state of the federal government is not specifically enforcing that section of the law,” Victor Flatt says.
Flatt is the Dwight Olds Chair in Law and the Faculty Director of the Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Center at the University of Houston.
Citizen supervisions have been used more frequently in Texas than in other states, particularly as related to the Clean Air Act, because Flatt says “the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has not been the most aggressive state enforcement agency concerning these violations.”
As for whether the Trump Administration, which has been been hostile to some environmental regulations, could affect the opportunity for environmental groups to use citizen supervisions, Flatt is doubtful.
“In terms of the fact that it’s a statute, or a statutory requirement, it is, I think, safe,” Flatt says. “It’s difficult to imagine that there would be enough political will in Congress to actually alter the statutory terms of the Clean Air Act. Where the Trump Administration has, or could possibly have an effect, is in doing certain regulations that define whether or not something is a violation or not.”
Written by Rachel Taube.