$2B Lawsuit Over Citgo’s Toxic Oil Emissions Will Result In $2M Criminal Fine

CREDIT: AP Photo/Robert E. Klein

Nearly 7 years after multinational corporation Citgo was convicted of environmental crimes for illegally operating uncovered oil tanks at its Corpus Christi refinery and intentionally letting birds die in the tanks, a Texas federal judge has finally ordered the company to pay up: $2 million.

The ruling, made Wednesday, is a disappointment to the residents who live near the Citgo refinery and had complained of nausea, dizziness, burning throats and other health problems because of the emissions. Their original lawsuit had sought $2 billion — a punishment they believed would be sufficient to actually put a dent in the multi-billion dollar company’s pocket.

“That is a punishment that does not fit the crime,” Melissa Jarrell, a professor of criminal justice at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, told Priscila Mosqueda at the Texas Observer. “What message does it send when a multibillion-dollar corporation receives a $2 million fine?”

U.S. District Judge John D. Rainey ordered Citgo and its subsidiary, Citgo Refining & Chemicals Co., to each pay $1 million for the two Clean Air Act violations they were convicted of in 2007. Judge Rainey had found Citgo guilty of illegally letting two tanks that contain oil and toxic chemicals like benzene vent into the open for nearly 10 years, into a community that made up mostly minorities and the elderly.

At the time of the sentencing, about 80 people from the surrounding neighborhood stood in the courtroom to await the sentence. As the Texas Observer noted, many of those people had been allowed to testify during the sentencing hearings, marking the first time in U.S. history that victims of an air pollution crime have been able to do so. Judge Rainey’s Wednesday order was a written one, the Observer noted, so Judge Rainey did not have to appear in court before the victims or Citgo.

Though the criminal fine was seen as small, it is worth noting that Judge Rainey did not make an order on how much restitution Citgo should pay, which could result in a larger fine and more compensation for those exposed to the pollution.

The ruling is subject to appeal by both the plaintiffs and Citgo. The corporation said it would appeal the decision, meaning that residents will not be seeing any type of compensation for some time.

More about the lawsuit can be found here.