NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, October 29, 2009 (ENS) – Student attorneys at Tulane University’s Environmental Law Clinic are taking on a giant oil company on behalf of a community group suffering from air pollutants released into their residential neighborhoods by an oil refinery.
A motion for partial summary judgment against Murphy Oil USA, Inc. was filed today by the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic on behalf of the neighborhood association Concerned Citizens Around Murphy.
The citizens’ lawsuit, initially filed in November 2008, alleges the Murphy Oil refinery at Meraux, Louisiana has violated the Clean Air Act over 130 times since October 2003 by releasing tons of sulfur dioxide and other harmful pollutants, including hydrogen sulfide and volatile organic compounds, in amounts that exceed their permit limits.
Documents filed in federal district court claim defendant Murphy Oil, USA is liable for violating the Clean Air Act and that the neighborhood association has standing to bring suit.
The citizen suit provision of the federal Clean Air Act grants citizens the independent authority to enforce legal standards to protect their own health and welfare and to encourage government agencies to enforce the Act more vigorously.
The neighborhood association seeks judgment on liability and standing issues, civil penalties and a court injunction to stop the illegal releases of air pollutants.
According to court documents, Murphy Oil admitted violating their air permits on at least 20 occasions. These violations occurred during preventable upsets and resulted in tons of toxic air releases into the Chalmette and Meraux neighborhoods.
Preventable upsets are unpermitted air emissions that occur when plants are being started up or shut down, during maintenance or during accidents due to operator error or leaks.
Murphy Oil USA Inc. operates retail gasoline stations under the Murphy USA® brand across 20 states in the United States. These are high-volume, low-cost retail gasoline stations, primarily in the parking areas of Wal-Mart Supercenters.
Murphy Oil USA, also operates a network of 12 company-owned terminals, which, along with numerous third-party terminals, provide fuel supply to retail and branded wholesale stations throughout 23 states.
Murphy Oil Corporation is an international oil and gas company that conducts business through various operating subsidiaries. The company produces oil and natural gas in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Malaysia and conducts exploration activities worldwide.
In a statement on the company website, David Wood, Murphy’s president and CEO, says, “Our company established a Board level environmental committee years before many of our peers.”
He says, “we will strive to create an ever improving and sustainable environment for our employees, our shareholders and the communities in which we work.”
Concerned Citizens Around Murphy hopes that proves true for their community. The neighborhood association was formed to address quality of life issues and to protect the organization’s members and other St. Bernard Parish residents from pollution coming from the surrounding petrochemical industry.
“With the holiday season approaching, most neighborhoods are planning festivities with associated decorations,” said Suzanne Kneale, an active member of Concerned Citizens Around Murphy. “Yet, residents in the fenceline community around Murphy often forgo outdoor lighting and other activities due to poor air quality.”
The only thing separating their homes from the refinery is a pipeline easement and a fence in need of repair.
“The unauthorized releases at the Murphy Oil Meraux refinery adversely effect the health and quality of life of residents,” said Kneale. “We are seeking a court injunction to preserve what little good air is left in this community.”
Louisiana has a total of 17 refineries. Three have had citizen enforcement suits filed against them, and two of those three are in St. Bernard Parish. The neighborhood association says this reflects local zoning and compliance issues that have allowed hazardous industry to operate adjacent to residential districts.