Chevron Will Pay Big Fine for Dumping

Times Staff Writer

Chevron USA has agreed to pay $1.5 million in penalties for illegally dumping thousands of pounds of pollutants into Santa Monica Bay, authorities disclosed Thursday.

A proposed settlement to be filed today in Los Angeles federal court also calls for the company to pay additional penalties for any Clean Water Act violations that occur over the next year, sources close to the case said.

Neither Chevron nor the U.S. Justice Department, which filed suit against the oil company last year seeking up to $8.8 million in penalties, would discuss details of the settlement.


But Justice Department attorney Cynthia Huber and Chevron’s attorney, Sarah G. Flanagan, confirmed Thursday that a proposed consent decree concluding the yearlong litigation has been negotiated. U.S. District Judge Richard A. Gadbois is expected to sign the decree.

Discharge Limits

In a major civil environmental suit filed in August, the federal Environmental Protection Agency accused Chevron of 880 violations of federal pollutant discharge limits since 1981 at the company’s El Segundo refinery.

The suit, which U.S. Atty. Robert C. Bonner described as an effort “to get tough on those companies and entities that drag their feet” in complying with federal pollution standards, said the company regularly exceeded its discharge limits on ammonia, solid waste and low-oxygen effluents.

Chevron officials have recently conceded that heavy storm water flows have contributed to pollutant discharges in excess of federal limits in the past, but they claim that construction of $25 million in new waste treatment facilities and a new $22-million effluent diversion project have virtually halted the problem.

Attorneys for the Sierra Club, which has a similar civil suit pending against Chevron, concede that there have been improvements but say there is also evidence that the company was in violation of its limit on total suspended solids as recently as Jan. 1.

Operator Error

That violation, however, was apparently caused by operator error in switching effluent flows from one diversion tank to another, said Deborah S. Reames, attorney for the San Francisco-based environmental organization.

Reames also refused to confirm details of the settlement but said she is not convinced the agreement will solve the problem.

“We’re glad to see that the EPA is beginning to take a more aggressive posture in these cases. This is a relatively big settlement for them, but we’re still concerned that Chevron netted a considerable economic gain here in not complying with the law,” she said.

By delaying construction of pollution control devices, Reames said, Chevron probably saved more money than the amount it will be assessed in penalties for violations.

“The Sierra Club is adamant that these civil penalties truly create a deterrent effect, and that all dischargers get the message that it doesn’t pay to pollute,” she said.

Lodged With Court

Chevron attorney Flanagan said she could not comment on the case until the settlement had been officially lodged with the court.

But in the company’s initial response to the EPA lawsuit, Chevron officials complained that government officials were attempting to blame them for all of Santa Monica Bay’s water quality problems, which the company said were largely attributable to pesticides, PCBs and municipal sewage.

Though the government cites frequent examples in which the discharge limits were exceeded--on Feb. 14 of last year, for example, the company exceeded its daily limit of 2,155 pounds of oil and grease by dumping 20,922 pounds into the bay--Chevron claims that the refinery’s annual average discharge is 28% under the limit for oil and grease, 80% under for ammonia and about 40% under for other substances.

Instances Cited

The Sierra Club lawsuit alleges about 47% more violations than those claimed in the EPA suit, citing instances going back over a full five-year period and seeking up to $13 million in penalties.

Chevron this week notified Sierra Club lawyers that it is has filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking a ruling on whether a private citizens’ group has authority to bring such a suit when the regional water quality control board had already taken steps to correct the violations.