Citgo ordered to pay $2 mln for environmental violations in Texas

NEW YORK Wed Feb 5, 2014 8:16pm EST

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NEW YORK Feb 5 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Wednesday ordered Citgo Petroleum Corp to pay more than $2 million for violations of U.S. environmental laws over toxic emissions at the company's refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas, from 1994 to 2003.

A jury convicted Citgo of illegally operating two tanks at its Corpus Christi refinery in 2007 following a three-week trial.

The refinery's tanks emitted benzene and other chemicals, polluting the air and causing health and respiratory problems for nearby residents, in violation of the U.S. Clean Air Act, said the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Justice Department also accused the company of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

"Facilities that operate in our backyards, especially in overburdened communities, have a responsibility to follow the nation's environmental laws," Cynthia Giles, an Assistant Administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement.

"Today's sentencing supports our commitment to reduce pollutants from the air we breathe, and to fight for those most vulnerable to pollutants," she said.

In a statement, Citgo said that it corrected the problem at the tanks a decade ago.

"Even though we believe (the judge) was fair in this sentencing process, Citgo intends to appeal because the prosecution unfairly characterized the two water equalization tanks as oil-water separators," Citgo said.

U.S. District Judge John Rainey of Corpus Christi, who imposed the fine, delayed a decision on payment of restitution to individual residents to a later date, court documents show.

The case is USA v. Citgo Petroleum Corp, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, No. 06cr00563. (Reporting By Carlyn Kolker; Editing by Michael Perry)

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