Texas environmental regulators have fined resin maker Formosa Plastics Corp. USA $121,000 for leaking plastic pellets into waters around its Point Comfort plant, but local environmental groups questioned the penalty and said they're hoping for a bigger fine from an ongoing federal court case.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said in a Jan. 16 order that Formosa agreed to implement stronger pellet recovery programs and make twice-yearly public reports on its cleanup efforts.
TCEQ noted that the company has removed more than 440,000 pounds of debris and plastic pellets from Lavaca Bay and Cox Creek.
A Formosa attorney said at the Jan. 16 TCEQ public meeting to adopt the order that the company agreed with the TCEQ decision, and has put new technologies in place to control pellet spills. As well, he said Formosa has a team of 16 employees who clean up resin pellets at the 2,500-acre facility.
"I just want to emphasize Formosa's commitment to addressing plastics in the environment," Bob Stewart, an attorney representing the Livingston, N.J.-based company, said.
But the environmental groups whose initial investigations triggered the TCEQ review, the San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, said $121,000 is not enough of a deterrent.
"We're gratified that TCEQ has finally penalized Formosa and that the company has acknowledged its violations of state and federal environmental law," said Diane Wilson, a member of the San Antonio Bay group, in a statement. "But this is just a start. Our lawsuit documents many more illegal discharges than TCEQ found in its limited investigation."
TRLA and SABEW brought that lawsuit against Formosa in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in 2017. The groups said they're seeking $173 million in penalties, based on their own investigations since 2016 detailing pellet discharges.
"The Clean Water Act calls for fines of up to $53,484 per violation and the cleanup so far demonstrates that Formosa has racked up thousands and thousands of violations," Wilson said. "We need much stiffer fines in order to make sure that Formosa takes environmental laws seriously in the future."
But the resin manufacturer said it's worked to reduce pellet leakage and clean up what's there.
"Formosa's taken a lot of steps on site to control any spillage of pellets, a lot of new technology to make sure they don't spill [and] a lot of new technology to clean up pellets that do spill," Stewart said.
The company said 2,700 people work at the facility, which produces various grades of polyethylene and polypropylene, along with other materials.
"This is a big complex, they have 16 employees who go around and clean up pellets," Stewart said.
He said the company has also cleaned up waste it's not responsible for, including from rail cars and trucks not connected to Formosa but carrying resin that spill on local roads.
"Formosa's been out there cleaning up a lot of not only plastic but trash from who knows where, even though they don't have the legal responsibility to do that," Stewart said. "These trucks and trains are supposed to be empty, but you know the pellets come out. And those are not Formosa's responsibility."
As well, Stewart told TCEQ that Formosa is one of 30 companies in the new industry-funded Alliance to End Plastic Waste, a $1.5 billion effort unveiled Jan. 16.