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Citgo refineries spew thousands of tons of chemicals into the air, degrading air quality and putting human health at risk. Despite Citgo's revenues hitting north of $40 billion, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality lets the company off easy. For her investigation in The Texas Observer, in partnership with Grist and The Investigative Fund, Naveena Sadasivam dug into how the TCEQ has fined corporate polluters $30 million for air violations, not much more than the $24 million imposed on gas stations, a significant percentage of which are owned by immigrants, just for record-keeping errors. The disparity between TCEQ's treatment of mom-and-pop operations versus large corporations favors those with money and power. The agency rarely punishes big polluters, often because of a legal loophole, and when it does levy a fine, lawyers negotiate big reductions in penalties. As a result, environmental advocates and small business owners say there's a fundamental unfairness at work with the way TCEQ treats the businesses it regulates.
Toxic emissions have been found near natural gas facilities in the Barnett Shale in Texas, an area that spreads out over 15 counties. Originally, the emission were believed to be non-harmful, but recent testing reveals "high level of benzene, a cancer-causing toxin." WFAA also reveals a major "lack of oversight" of "drilling in the Barnett Shale."
This story didn't focus on one specific chemical plant; instead it focuses on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). After analyzing data for individual pollutants that were emitted during non-routine operations, a number of details were revealed. Some of these details are that "more than 20 million pounds of pollutants were emitted", TCEQ infrequently enforced the laws, some penalties were never finalized, and "the plants with the most violations paid the least percentage of their fines".
A comparison between EPA and TCEQ records shows that the company gave a far lower emissions figure to state officials than the smokestack monitor registered. Until reporters started raising questions nearly a year ago, TCEQ officials said they had no idea of the extent of TXU energy company's emissions.