ExxonMobil

Flames and smoke rise after a fire started at an Exxon Mobil facility July 31, in Baytown. The ExxonMobil company is facing a third lawsuit filed by Harris County based on the emission of pollutants. 

Action stems from emission of pollutants 

Harris County filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil Thursday alleging that the company’s Baytown facility violated state environmental laws with releases on Dec. 22 and 24 and on Jan. 2. 

The county alleges that the releases were unauthorized and violated the Clean Air Act in the Texas Health and Safety Code and also the Texas Water Code.

With this suit, Harris county has three active environmental lawsuits against the facility in less than a year, with the other two stemming from fires in March and in July.

The latest filing comes just over a week before a hearing Friday in which the Texas Attorney General is claiming that Aug. 1 first suit filed by the county is not valid.

Texas law requires county commissioners to pass a resolution authorizing such lawsuits—the Aug. 1 lawsuit did not have a specific resolution, but instead was filed based on a resolution in which commissioners authorized the county attorney to file such suits when necessary.

The state is claiming that the county should not have filed a suit based on authorization received before the alleged event occurred.

While Harris County is defending its right to use pre-authorization, commissioners explicitly approved the newest lawsuit at the Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, whose precinct includes not only Baytown but also most of the Houston Ship Channel industrial facilities, said “It just doesn’t make any sense that the Attorney General is saying that we [Commissioners Court] could not give the County Attorney’s Office authority to execute a lawsuit on our behalf.

“This is just an attempt to further try to weaken the counties and keep them from doing what we need to do to fight for our local constituents,” he said. 

Garcia said he brought the newest suit to Commissioners Court to avoid it being contested like the previous one was. “We wanted to make sure that if there was any ambiguity about the authority that we extended or what direction the will of the Court is at, we want to make sure that we are supporting the County Attorney’s Office and making sure all of that is abundantly clear.”

The commissioners said the attorney general’s efforts would be better directed at handling environmental lawsuits in smaller counties.

“We in the urban county settinng, we do have the capacity and we do have the resources, the budget to deal with this situation. Most importantly, we know what is important to our constituents, moreso than the Attorney General in Austin.

“I think he should focus on providing that support and resources to the rural counties. They obviously have similar challenges with more constrained resources.”

“When the [recent chemical leak] happened in Port Neches, I put in a call to [Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick] and said ‘Harris County stands ready to help you in any way we can.’ Where we can, we will be helpful,” Garcia said. 

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