Houston/ Crime & Emergencies
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Published on May 23, 2024
TPC Group Pleads Guilty to Clean Air Act Violation, to Pay Over $30 Million in Penalties for Port Neches Plant ExplosionSource: Google Street View

The TPC Group, a Texas-based petrochemical company, has been hit with hefty penalties following the devastating 2019 explosions at its Port Neches plant. The Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that the company pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Air Act, resulting in criminal fines and civil penalties amounting to over $30 million.

In an incident that saw thousands evacuated in the dead of night, TPC Group has agreed to plead guilty and pay $18 million in criminal fines. Their guilty plea also comes with the requirement for a public apology and a year of probation. According to details provided by the Justice Department, the nightmare unfolded on Nov. 27, just before Thanksgiving, with two explosions that released over 11 million pounds of hazardous substances and caused over $130 million in damages. Residents were shaken from slumber by blasts that sent concussions, burns, shattered teeth, and tinnitus reverberating through the community.

U.S. Attorney Damien M. Diggs for the Eastern District of Texas told Justice Department, “The community of Port Neches and their neighbors will never forget the horror of being awakened in the middle of the night – hours before Thanksgiving – by the frightening sounds of the TPC plant explosion at their doorsteps. TPC violated the law when it ignored its own safety protocols, which led to a disastrous explosion with catastrophic consequences that directly endangered the lives of TPC workers and the surrounding community. Today’s guilty plea shows that businesses that choose to place profits over safeguards and legal compliance will face serious consequences.”

In addition to the criminal fine, the civil proceedings saw TPC Group slapped with a $12.1 million penalty, which will be executed through bankruptcy proceedings. The Justice Department reports that in part of a global settlement, TPC Group will also shell out approximately $80 million for safety improvements at both the Port Neches and Houston facilities.

Assistant Administrator David M. Uhlmann of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance highlighted the broader implications of TPC Group's failure, telling the Justice Department, “Today’s criminal and civil settlements hold TPC accountable for endangering the Port Neches community and require the company to invest approximately $80 million to improve safety at TPC Group facilities. These settlements highlight the strong partnership between EPA’s criminal and civil enforcement programs and demonstrate EPA’s emphasis on a more strategic and collaborative approach to enforcement and compliance assurance.” Moreover, TPC Group will install air monitors and host community meetings to address safety concerns, thereby demonstrating a commitment towards environmental compliance and public health.

The TPC Group had been long aware of the hazards posed by the formation of a 'popcorn polymer' in its production lines, which can result in explosions or fires. Despite this knowledge, necessary prevention measures were not implemented, leading to the 2019 catastrophes. Through their guilty plea and subsequent settlements, the company acknowledges the necessity of risk management and the impact of corporate accountability on the safety and wellbeing of workers and communities alike.