Sierra Club Sues Shell

Shell factors environmental fines into its costs to continue polluting, according to environmentalists.

The Sierra Club, the nation’s largest and oldest environmental group, filed suit in federal court last week against Shell Oil over ongoing pollution at a refining and chemical plant complex along the Houston Ship Channel in Texas. According to the lawsuit, Shell should be held financially accountable—in the amount of $32 million each—for an estimated 1,000 incidents between 2003 and 2007 when its Deer Park, Texas facility exceeded maximum allowable levels of pollution.

While the company—the nation’s eighth largest oil refinery—has been cited and fined by state regulators for some of the incidents, environmentalists contend that spotty enforcement has allowed Shell to continue to generate unacceptable levels of pollution on a regular basis.

"Shell is paying to pollute," says Joshua Kratka of the National Environmental Law Center, which represents the Sierra Club (and the nonprofit Environment Texas) in the lawsuit. He told reporters, "Shell is factoring these fines into its costs of operating these facilities."

The lawsuit is just the latest in ongoing efforts by environmentalists to bring the excesses of the oil industry before the American public. But in this case, there is more to the problem than climate change worries: a 2007 University of Texas study found a possible link between childhood leukemia and living within two miles of the refineries along Houston’s Ship Channel.

The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for Southern District of Texas, seeks a court order requiring Shell to end its Clean Air Act violations. Additionally, Shell faces civil penalties of up to $32,500 per day for each violation of the Clean Air Act. Environmentalists are optimistic that even if state and federal regulators can’t clean up Shell’s act, the Sierra Club will be victorious.

Sources: Planet Ark; The Pasadena Citizen