Oil and gas companies are paying fines that indirectly benefit their industry

An investigation found state regulators approved money meant to offset environmental harm going to nonprofits with ties to oil and gas.

By Kristen Cabrera & Caroline CovingtonApril 27, 2022 2:08 pm, ,

Some oil and gas companies that have paid fines for pollution have indirectly benefited from those fines.

Floodlight, the nonprofit environmental news website, found that the very money the state of Texas collected from energy companies to offset their pollution ended up paying for industry-run programs.

Amal Ahmed, a contributing reporter for Floodlight, wrote that “Texas is allowing the fossil fuel industry to reshuffle money back to itself.” Texas Standard spoke with Ahmed; listen to the interview in the audio player above or read the highlights below to learn more.

Highlights from this interview:

– The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality fined Formosa Plastics, in Point Comfort, $267,000 for air quality and other violations. Half of that fine went to the state’s general revenue fund; the other half went to a nonprofit, chosen by Formosa, from the state’s list of approved organizations. Formosa chose the Texas Natural Gas Foundation.

“Most of the work that [the Natural Gas Foundation] does is actually creating natural gas – kind of pro-natural gas educational material for schools,” in addition to converting diesel school buses to natural gas, Ahmed said.

– The organizations on TCEQ’s list are supposed to be focused on environmental remediation – projects like waterway cleanup or responsible hazardous-waste disposal. Converting diesel school buses to natural gas also qualifies.

– The TCEQ told Floodlight the donation was not a conflict of interest; the Texas Natural Gas Foundation did not respond to Ahmed’s request for comment. The Houston Regional Monitoring Corp., another group on TCEQ’s list of eligible nonprofits, has received over $950,000 from energy companies via these fines. The group collects air quality data that energy companies can use to expand their operations without violating air quality laws. It argues it provides a public benefit, and that the money is not a conflict of interest.

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