February 02, 2009

Do businesses pay for their pollution?

Apparently, no. And TCEQ's fines are more a cost a doing business than an actual deterrent.

The recent pollution history of prominent Texas company Exxon Mobil Corp. helps put the numbers in perspective.

On a January day nearly three years ago, the three-member Texas Commission on Environmental Quality told Exxon Mobil that it owed $8,662 for a single pollution episode. Investigators had found that the company had failed to obtain permits and to record unauthorized emissions, according to state records.

Despite the fines, Exxon Mobil's Harris County chemical plants violated pollution rules at least nine times over the rest of 2006, belching into the air tons of carbon monoxide, smog-related chemicals and carcinogens. One of the emissions violations, according to state records, ran 201 hours.

The total bill for those penalties came to $146,450.

But the violations kept occurring. In 2007 the firm was fined 10 separate times to the tune of $247,066 — an incidental cost, critics say, for a corporation that had $11.66 billion of profit in the final three months of that year, or $264,000 every three minutes.

"You hope that you hold a company accountable for violating the law with a certain threat of a high penalty that will deter the company from violating the law in the first place, or deter them from doing it again," said Tom McGarity , an environmental law professor at the University of Texas. "But you figure they have written the penalty into the cost of doing business. It costs more to do something about it, to remedy the problem."

Posted by mcblogger at February 2, 2009 01:21 PM

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