Over Victims' Protest, Houston Judge OKs $50 Million BP Fine

A Houston federal judge, U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal, today approved a $50 million fine in a criminal case stemming from the March 2005 explosion at BP Products North America Inc.'s Texas City, Texas, refinery. The explosion killed 15 workers and triggered a $21 million OSHA fine. Rosenthal has been considering the proposed $50 million fine for months while victims of injured workers sought help from two higher federal courts. They wanted the fine to be increased. Rosenthal said she has no authority to raise or lower the proposed $50 million fine, merely approve the penalty or reject it. And today, she told the victims' representatives that she can't ensure the refinrery is safe, no matter how large the fine becomes, according to online coverage by The Houston Chronicle.

BP embarked on a $1 billion safety upgrade at the refinery and has paid all of the 4,000 civil claims lodged against it from injured workers or relatives of those who died, according to the newspaper.

BP recently agreed to pay a $420,662 civil penalty and spend $365,000 on supplemental environmental projects at the refinery. EPCRA requires certain facilities that manufacture, process, or use certain toxic chemicals to report their releases annually. This settlement resolves BP Products North America’s failure to submit toxic chemical release inventory information to EPA and the state of Texas for 2002-2005 and failure to maintain reporting records for 2004. Toxic chemicals that were subject to reporting requirements included anthracene, cobalt compounds, dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, formaldehyde, lead compounds, methanol, nickel compounds, phenanthrene, and vanadium.

The supplemental environmental projects will improve Texas City's ability to respond to emergency releases, including an ambulance, improvements to the city's computer system, communications equipment, a system to aid in traffic control during emergencies, and money to improve the city's Emergency Operations Center and mobile command post.

BP's U.S. refining operations include refineries in Texas City; Carson, Calif.; Cherry Point, Wash.; Whiting, Ind.; and Toledo, Ohio. These five refineries can process 1.5 million barrels of crude oil per day. The company is the second-largest refiner in North America, it says.

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