|January 2, 2012|
Previously published on December 29, 2011
On December 15, 2011, Pelican Refinery Company LLC was sentenced by a federal judge in Louisiana to pay $10 million in criminal fines and $2 million in community restitution for alleged felony violations of the Clean Air Act and alleged obstruction of justice charges. In addition to the fines and restitution, Pelican Refinery is prohibited from conducting future operations unless it implements an environmental compliance program and submits to independent quarterly audits by an outside firm and oversight by a court appointed monitor.
The criminal charges stem from a multi-year investigation of the company’s refinery in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The investigation has also resulted in guilty pleas by Pelican’s vice-president, who oversaw the refinery’s operations from his office in Houston, and by Pelican’s asphalt facilities manager. Both pleaded guilty earlier this year to negligent endangerment charges under the Clean Air Act.
The investigation and prosecution of Pelican Refinery and its employees continue several trends by the Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division (EPA-CID) and the U. S. Department of Justice (DOJ) over recent years. The fine is the largest ever in Louisiana for violations of the Clean Air Act and continues efforts by EPA-CID and DOJ to seek increasingly higher fines and penalties for violations of the environmental laws. The prosecution of the two employees is consistent with guidance from DOJ that both corporations and their culpable employees should be prosecuted. The charges against the employees are further evidence of a disturbing trend by EPA-CID and DOJ to hold corporate officers and managers criminally responsible by charging them with negligent violations of the environmental laws and by applying the “Responsible Corporate Officer” doctrine.
This prosecution, like others in recent years, illustrates that a robust and effective environmental compliance program is critically important both to companies and to their officers and managers.