WASHINGTON —CITGO Refining and Chemicals Co. (CITGO Refining) was found guilty late yesterday of three misdemeanor criminal violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) by a judge in Corpus Christi, Texas, the Justice Department announced today.
Various species of migratory ducks were killed after being coated with or ingesting oil as a result of landing in two open top tanks located at CITGO’s Corpus Christi East Plant Refinery. From the air, the tanks appear to be ponds and attract the birds, and thus, must be fitted with nets or other equipment to prevent the birds from entering or landing in the oil. The MBTA implements international treaties that protect birds which migrate between countries. Under the Act, taking, killing or possessing migratory birds is unlawful, unless permitted by regulation.
“CITGO Refining’s failure to install inexpensive protective equipment caused the unnecessary deaths of these protected birds,” said Ronald J. Tenpas, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division. “These convictions as well as CITGO’s other recent Clean Air Act convictions serve as notice that the Justice Department is committed to enforcing laws that protect our nation’s natural resources.”
“This conviction as well as CITGO's recent conviction for failing to install required pollution control equipment which allowed benzene, a cancer-causing pollutant, into the air send a clear message to the regulated community,” said Granta Nakayama, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Compliance is not optional—companies that put the public and the environment at risk will pay the price.”
“This investigation and resulting convictions are extremely significant and illustrate our commitment to eliminating industrial threats to our natural resources, specifically our migratory birds. We will continue to work jointly with our federal and state counterparts to ensure that the public’s natural resources are protected,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest Regional Special Agent in Charge Nicholas Chavez.
CITGO Petroleum Corp. and its subsidiary CITGO Refining were each convicted on June 27, 2007, of two counts of violating the Clean Air Act by operating these same open top tanks without installing the proper emission controls required by federal law. The tanks were used as oil water separators but were not equipped with either a fixed-roof vented to a control device or a floating-roof as required by the Clean Air Act (CAA).
CITGO Petroleum and CITGO Refining and its environmental manager were originally indicted by a federal grand jury in Corpus Christi on Aug. 9, 2006. The indictment contains the following counts:
-Four felony counts of violations of the CAA against CITGO Petroleum and CITGO Refining;
-Five misdemeanor counts of violations of the MBTA against CITGO Refining and Philip Vrazel; and
-One felony count of false statements against CITGO Petroleum, Citgo Refining and Philip Vrazel.
The court has yet to determine whether the government will be able to go forward on the false statement charge.
Environmental manager Philip Vrazel was acquitted on five counts of violating the MBTA.
Sentencing of CITGO Petroleum and CITGO Refining is scheduled for Oct. 18, 2007 for the CAA convictions. At that time CITGO Refining will also be sentenced for the MBTA convictions. Each violation of the MBTA is punishable by up to six months in jail and fines up to $15,000 per bird. For the Clean Air Act violations, the company also faces fines of up to $500,000 per count or twice the gross economic gain (whichever is greater) and five years of probation.
This case is being prosecuted by Senior Litigation Counsel Howard P. Stewart and Trial Attorney Lary Larson of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section and William R. Miller, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas. The case is the result of an investigation by the Texas Environmental Crimes Task Force which includes the EPA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Division, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.