Environmental Groups Demand EPA Investigate Texas Industrial Plant for Pollution-Driven Civil Rights Violations

The 85-Year-Old Oxbow Petroleum Coke Plant in Port Arthur is One of the Largest Sources of Sulfur Dioxide Pollution in the State

Austin, Texas – Residents of Port Arthur, Texas, today petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to launch an investigation into whether Texas violated the civil rights of a mostly African-American community by allowing dangerous amounts of air pollution to pour from an industrial plant for years, without any modern pollution controls.

The Port Arthur Community Action Network, through its attorneys at Lone Star Legal Aid and Environmental Integrity Project, is asking EPA to investigate the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s lax treatment of the 85-year-old Oxbow Calcining plant, which manufactures a petroleum byproduct called petroleum coke that is used as a fuel and as an ingredient in metals.

Oxbow released about 22 million pounds of sulfur dioxide each year from 2016 through 2019, the years with the most recent available state data – making it one of the largest sources of this air pollution in Texas, and a far larger source than the other refineries and petrochemical plants in Port Arthur.

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) can trigger coughing, lung disease, and eye irritation and is a main ingredient in microscopic soot particles that can trigger asthma and heart attacks. Unlike most other modern industrial facilities, the Oxbow plant does not have a pollution control device called a “scrubber” to capture sulfur dioxide because TCEQ has not required it.

Ninety-two percent of the sulfur dioxide air pollution in Jefferson County, including Port Arthur, comes from the Oxbow plant. About 2,624 residents live within a three-mile radius of the plant, 98 percent of whom are people of color, and 62 percent of whom are lower income, according to census data.

“Air is Life. Serial polluter OxBow is placing the lives and health of the Port Arthur and southeast Texas community at risk,” said John Beard, Founder and Chairman of the Port Arthur Community Action Network. “Respiratory and heart disease, and other health maladies detract from the quality of life and harm children, the elderly and a community already over-burdened by chronic illness. OxBow must be held accountable, and this action is to compel the EPA, and others, to act. Lives are at stake.”

“Port Arthur, Texas, is a stark example of environmental injustice in the U.S.,” said Environmental Integrity Project Attorney Colin Cox. “The Biden Administration EPA has promised to prioritize environmental justice issues, and they have the opportunity to step up and keep that promise by helping the people of Port Arthur.”

The Port Arthur Community Action Network is asking EPA to investigate whether TCEQ violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in any program or activity that receives federal funds. The groups allege that TCEQ did this by issuing air pollution control permits to Oxbow, and failing to require modern pollution control devices, despite the large amount of air pollution released by the plant.

“Bringing this civil rights complaint under Title VI is the first step to asking EPA to review the disparate impacts that West Port Arthur faces because of the continued operations of Oxbow and the excessive SO2 emissions emitted by the facility,” said Amy Dinn, Managing Attorney of Lone Star Legal Aid’s Environmental Justice Team. “Should the federal agency fail to act on this complaint, Port Arthur Community Action Network can seek judicial review of that decision.”

In addition to demanding an investigation, the community is asking TCEQ to issue a stronger air pollution control permit for the plant, and make sure its terms are in compliance with health-based air quality standards for sulfur dioxide. The community organization is also demanding that Oxbow hold an outreach event with the Port Arthur community to explain what they are doing to control the pollution.

Read the complaint here.

View the complaint attachments here.

The Port Arthur Community Action Network is a community-based, environmental justice non-profit organization working to protect the people of Port Arthur, Texas. https://www.pa-can.com.

Lone Star Legal Aid’s mission is to protect and advance the civil legal rights of the millions of Texans living in poverty in its 76 county service area by providing free advocacy, legal representation, and community education that ensures equal access to justice. http://www.lonestarlegal.org/

The Environmental Integrity Project is a 19-year-old, nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to enforcing environmental laws and strengthening policy to protect public health and the environment. Learn more at www.environmentalintegrity.org.

Media Contacts:
Clarissa Ayala, Communications Director at Lone Star Legal Aid, (832) 627-8404 or cayala@lonestarlegal.org
Ari Phillips, Environmental Integrity Project, (505) 629-6148, aphillips@environmentalintegrity.org