A federal judge in Texas sided with local environmental groups June 27 in a pellet pollution case against Formosa Plastics Corp., ruling that the firm's Point Comfort, Texas, resin plant regularly violated federal environmental laws in leaking pellets into local waterways.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt said the company has been a "serial offender" of its permit under the Clean Water Act, for discharging more plastic pellets into nearby bays and creeks than the trace amounts it is allowed to release.
"The evidence demonstrates that Formosa has been in violation of its permit ... since January 31, 2016, and that the violations are enormous," Hoyt wrote in his 21-page order. "The court concludes that Formosa is a serial offender."
The San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper group and others brought the suit against Formosa in U.S. District Count for the Southern District of Texas in 2017. Hoyt heard arguments in a bench trial in late March and early April.
In January, Texas state regulators had fined the company $121,000, but the environmental groups pushed ahead with their federal court case, calling for larger penalties, which they said could top $160 million under federal law.
Diane Wilson, spokesperson for the San Antonio Bay group, said they expect a penalty hearing to be scheduled for September.
"In my 30 years of fighting Formosa's discharge and advocating for Lavaca Bay, this is the first time I have ever felt that justice was delivered," she said in an email. "The judge heard us. I'm still trying to wrap my head around that feeling."
Formosa did not respond to a request for comment but in the past has said it has taken significant steps to control pellet pollution and told Texas regulators it had 16 people at the plant to clean up resin spills.
Formosa also had argued that the $121,000 fine and settlement agreement with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) meant the federal lawsuit should be dismissed, but Hoyt rejected that.
"Based on the overwhelming evidence, the TCEQ's findings and assessment merely shows the difficulty or inability of the TCEQ to bring Formosa into compliance with its permit restrictions," Hoyt wrote.
The judge's order said the evidence points to more than 1,100 days of violations from various discharge points from the factory complex.
Hoyt wrote that the environmental groups and expert witnesses they brought in "provided detailed, credible testimony regarding plastics discharged by Formosa" and he noted testimony from a former Formosa employee as identifying problems in the plant that lead to pellet discharge.
Hoyt, who was nominated to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, said he found that the company's expert witnesses did not provide evidence disputing the essential allegations.
"None rebutted the evidence that Formosa was and had discharged substantial quantities of plastic pellets and PVC powder into Cox Creek and into Lavaca Bay in violation of its Permit," Hoyt wrote.