Huntsman, continued from page 5 control board, and, therefore was in charge of policing the plant. In fact, Neil Carman, who worked at the TCEQ with Peters before joining the Sierra Club, says that Peters and Texaco had a cozy relationship before he left the agency. “In 1992,” he says, “there was an investigator in Beaumont who was hitting Texaco with lots of violations. Texaco complained to Peters, and suddenly she was transferred to Corpus Christi. This wasn’t unusual behavior within the agency, though.” It is common for TCEQ officials to move from state employment to become environmental managers for Peters’ case, it is clear that his intimate knowledge ofTCEQ procedure and his relationship with the agency taught him he could flagrantly break the law. In December of 1994, after numerous complaints from nearby residents, the TCEQ inspected the plant and discovered that one of the cooling towers was emitting massive quantities of toxic air pollutants-6,484 pounds of benzene were measured, plus an additional 6,122 pounds of other Volatile Organic TCEQ made no effort to monitor the cooling tower on a regular basis, Huntsman’s own records reflect that close to this amountdescribed by one be fixed immediately. An upset is defined as an unpreventable, one-time release of dangerous pressure, and is exempt from normal emissions quotas. But when chemical plants have a release caused by inadequate maintenance, environmentalists charge it is often explained as an “upset” to avoid penalties. In this case, the upset report was clearly a ruse. Peters knew it would get the TCEQ off his back. In fact, the problem wasn’t fixed until almost a year later, and by that time a few other valves had burst, and were leaking a similar toxic stew.The federal government estimates that the cooling tower alone released 2,300 tons of VOCs a year. industry. This unofficial “revolving door” policy is great for the underpaid, under-appreciated public official Peters made over $100,000 a year at Huntsmanbut it’s effects on enforcement activities, says Denny Larson of the Sustainable Energy and Economic deleterious. “Texas is not unique,” he says. “But it is the national poster child when it comes to this sort of revolving door policy. It simply destroys the integrity of enforcement efforts.” In inspector as “off the charts”was being released daily. \(VOCs are a group of chemicals that evaporate quickly into the air, forming smog. Benzene, a common solvent, is considered one of the most hazardous VOCs. It is known to cause cancer, birth defects and sterility and is suspected of also causing liver After the TCEQ inspection, Peters immediately drafted a letter claiming it was a “major upset” caused by a leaky valve. He promised the problem would Michael May That was just the beginning of Huntsman’s problems. The massive plant was springing leaks like an old hose. One of their flares, a device used to burn excess VOCs that mechanically resembles a huge elevated gas stove burner, was in serious disrepair. During the summer of 1995, only one of six pilot lights worked, so, depending on the direction of the wind, pure VOCs were released into the atmosphere. Fixing the flare would have required shutting down the plant for a day, cost 16 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11/8/02
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