Harris County Sues ExxonMobil In Wake Of Baytown Chemical Fire

County Judge Lina Hidalgo says the weakness of state pollution regulations makes the county’s action necessary.

By Joy DiazAugust 2, 2019 12:05 pm, ,

A fire this week at a Houston-area petrochemical plant left 37 people with minor injuries. It happened at Irving-based ExxonMobil’s Baytown plant. And it was just the latest industrial accident to blacken the skies near Houston. In a quick – some say bold – move, the Harris County attorney’s office filed a lawsuit against the company. Earlier this year, county commissioners decided to let the office file lawsuits without their approval.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo says the county’s suit alleges “environmental violations, illegal outdoor burning, creating a condition of air pollution, and a nuisance, as well.”

Hidalgo says state regulations often result in “a slap on the wrist” for polluters. She says the county’s legal actions are aimed at changing behavior more forcefully. And proceeding quickly prevents the state from intervening to weaken potential remedies, she says.

“Lately, there’s been a cap, for example, on fines,” Hidalgo says. “There’s been laws that make it easier for [companies] to get off.”

Hidalgo says the county’s lawsuit is partially aimed at making a statement about conditions that led to chemical plant explosions, and what she sees as an inadequate regulatory framework at the state level. 

“What we’re learning how to do is work around [regulatory limitations], within them – better monitoring, keeping our community informed and keeping our community safe,” Hidalgo says.


Written by Shelly Brisbin.