Significant fines were finally imposed on the Texas-based Pelican Refining Company LLC, for its major violations of the Clean Air Act at the Lake Charles, Louisiana plant. December 12th marked the final stage in the multi-year case, when Pelican LLC was sentenced to pay $12 million in criminal fines. The $12 million fine will be broken down into two parts: $10 million will be paid to the U.S EPA, while the remaining $2 million will go towards environmental projects within Louisiana. In addition to the environmental violations, Pelican LLC was convicted on obstruction of justice charges for submitting falsified documents to Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ).
Pelican LLC admitted to numerous environmental violations of the Clean Air Act, which were initially discover in a 2006 inspection by the LDEQ. The company had no budget designated to an environmental department or environmental manager. Consequently, this lack of any environmental management resulted in pollution control technologies that did not function because the equipment was improperly installed, poorly maintained and almost never calibrated. Because the equipment did not function properly, noxious emissions limits set by the Clean Air Act were exceeded, subjecting nearby residents to harmful levels of pollutants. But perhaps the most appalling violation was the routine practice of using an emergency flare gun to re-light the flare tower at the refinery designed to burn off toxic gasses and provide for the safe combustion of potentially explosive chemicals. This was routine because the pilot light was not functioning properly, resulting in employees taking turns trying to shoot the flare gun to relight the explosive gasses.
Pelican LLC was also found guilty of criminal obstruction of justice charges for providing false information to the LDEQ about pollution control devices and laboratory results regarding the testing of asphalt. This resulted in the conviction of Mike LeBleu, the Pelican facilities former asphalt department manager, on negligent endangerment charges under the Clean Air Act. Vice president of operations Byron Hamilton also pleaded guilty to similar charges, which could land him in prison for up to one year and cost him a total of $400,000 in fines.
The criminal investigation is being conducted by the EPA Criminal Investigation Division in Baton Rouge and the Louisiana State Police, with assistance from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. The case is being prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley; Richard A. Udell, Senior Trial Attorney of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice; and Trial Attorney Christopher Hale with the Environmental Crimes Section.