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    Environmental Groups Sue Shell

    Claims the company's Houston refinery released more pollutants than allowed.

    HOUSTON -- Major oil company Shell Oil Co. and a number of its affiliates were sued by environmental groups earlier this week, which claimed for years the oil company released pollutants from its suburban refinery here that are well above state and federal limits, The Associated Press reported.

    The federal lawsuit, filed by the Sierra Club and Environment Texas, claim the excess air pollutants -- such as toxic chemicals benzene and 1.3-butadiene -- are a violation of the federal Clean Air Act, the report stated.

    The lawsuit alleges at an average of more than once per week starting in 2003, the refinery had unauthorized emissions releases due to equipment breakdowns or unscheduled maintenance, which have exceeded hourly and annual limits on pollutants, according to the report. The groups want a judge to order Shell to comply with emissions limits, and fine the company up to $32,500 per day for each violation, the report stated.

    "Shell has not taken the corrective action to keep the volume of emissions from being high. The technology exists to prevent most of these (unauthorized) emissions," Neil Carman, with the Sierra Club's Texas chapter, said at a news conference cited by the AP.

    The groups told the AP they filed a suit because the governmental agencies overseeing Shell -- the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) -- failed to bring the refinery into compliance, according to the report.

    In response, Shell issued a statement: "We have a record of continuous improvement in environmental performance achieved through significant investment in emission reduction projects and heightened employee focus on preventing operational incidents," the statement said, adding the company was willing to discuss their concerns with groups, according to the AP.

    In addition, a spokesman for the EPA's regional office in Dallas, Dave Bary, issued a statement. "The Environmental Protection Agency's strong enforcement program will continue to vigorously enforce our nation's environmental laws to ensure protection of public health and the environment," the statement said.

    The TCEQ told the AP there are various pending cases against Shell's refinery for unauthorized emissions, and nearly $290,000 in fines have been assessed on the facility since 2003 for such releases and other violations, the report stated.

    "The TCEQ has diligently enforced provisions of the Clean Air Act in accordance with state law and regulations," the agency said in a statement cited by the AP.

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