November 26, 2007

BP broke law at Texas City plant, lawyers say

Remember that Texas City refinery that BP owns and operates? You know, the one that blew up in March, 2005 killing 15 workers and injuring hundreds? Apparently, it shouldn't have even been operating...

BP Plc violated Texas's ``revolving door'' law in 2003 by hiring a state environmental engineer to work on the same air pollution permit he'd supervised as a regulator, lawyers suing the company claim.

The permit, which governs BP's Texas City, Texas, refinery, allowed the company to operate its largest refinery without replacing outdated emissions controls, such as the one that exploded in March 2005, killing 15 workers. Texas law requires applications be rejected when the people involved worked on both sides of the permitting process.

The engineer ``changed sides and worked on the other side of this same thing for BP, representing BP against the state?'' a lawyer for some of the injured workers asked Watson Dupont, a safety manager at the Texas City plant in a Nov. 15 deposition, portions of which were made public in court filings Nov. 23.

``He worked for BP in 2003 on the third draft of the flex permit, yeah,'' Dupont replied, referring to BP Senior Air Engineer Rueben Herrera, a former permitting engineer at Texas Council for Environmental Quality. The group regulates industrial emissions.

Here's the best part...

Mark Lanier, in a Nov. 23 filing in Houston federal court, singles out Herrera's involvement on both sides of BP's air- quality permit for the Texas City refinery as proof that BP ``flagrantly violated a variety of regulatory and ethical guidelines to ensure its criminal acts could proceed apace.''

``Herrera did secure the necessary permits despite the fact that such action was itself a crime,'' Lanier said in his objections to BP's plea. Lanier said the plea doesn't punish BP's ``breathtaking acts of criminality.''
In hearings since September 2006, BP's lawyers have repeatedly told State District Judge Susan Criss, who is overseeing the civil case, that the company didn't break any laws regarding its Texas air-quality permits. Last year, Criss ruled she would allow jurors to consider evidence that BP may have falsified documents to fraudulently obtain its permits against the company for punitive damages purposes.

``Herrera testified many months ago, and it was incredible what we heard,'' Criss told civil lawyers during a Nov. 12 pretrial hearing, referencing Herrera's prior testimony on the permits. ``He indicated it was a criminal act for him to have left that agency and gone to work for BP,'' Criss said.

Gotta love that this is before Judge Criss instead of one of those Republican gas bags who'll vote with industry 84% of the time...

Posted by mcblogger at November 26, 2007 01:41 PM

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