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Reuters: Sierra Club sues Shell over Texas refinery pollution

Mon Jan 7, 2008 8:24pm GMT 
By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) – The Sierra Club, the largest and oldest U.S. environmental organization, filed a federal lawsuit on Monday against Shell Oil Co and subsidiaries seeking to stop pollution during malfunctions from its refining and chemical plant complex along the Houston Ship Channel.

Shell could face a maximum fine of $32,500 for each of an estimated 1,000 incidents between 2003 and 2007 when the Deer Park, Texas, refinery and chemical plant exceeded levels of pollution allowed under permits issued by Texas regulators.

Shell has been cited by regulators and paid fines for some of the incidents, Joshua Kratka of the National Environmental Law Center, which represents the Sierra Club and Environment Texas in the lawsuit, told reporters.

The fines have not been enough to stop preventable pollution, Kratka said.

“Shell is paying to pollute,” he said. “Shell is factoring these fines into its costs of operating these facilities.”

Shell representatives did not have immediate comment about the lawsuit on Monday.

Pollution from the refinery and chemical plant is regularly pushed by prevailing Gulf Coast winds to neighborhoods along the ship channel, said a resident of the area.

“We don’t have a magical fence that stops it from coming to us,” said Karla Lands, a resident and business owner in the Houston suburb of Channelview, Texas, which is north of the Deer Park complex.

A University of Texas study released in 2007 found a possible link between childhood leukemia and living within 2 miles of the Ship Channel’s refinery row.

The Sierra Club lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for Southern District of Texas under the U.S. Clean Air Act which allows citizen lawsuits to gain enforcement of the act’s provisions.

The Deer Park refinery is the eighth-largest U.S. refinery and a 50-50 joint venture between Shell and Mexico’s state-owned oil company, Pemex.

Shell Oil Co, based in Houston, is the U.S. unit of Royal Dutch Shell Plc.

(Editing by Matthew Lewis)

© Reuters2008All rights reserved.

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