A shameful court decision in Texas shows why we need to see pollution for what it is: violence, usually against poor and vulnerable people.
The situation is Erin Brockovich stuff. A Citgo refinery bordering Corpus Christi’s poor, largely minority Hillcrest neighborhood was illegally allowing benzene and other pollutants to escape its tanks. A jury found it guilty, not just civilly, but criminally. This unusually severe judgment was the first criminal conviction of a refinery operation under the Clean Air Act. With the support of the Justice Department, the victims sought what victims of ordinary crime expect when possible: restitution from the wrongdoer to make them whole.
U.S. District Judge John D. Rainey decided Wednesday that victims of Citgo’s criminal—literally criminal—pollution will receive no restitution. Citgo won’t have to pay any of the $55 million that the Justice Department had requested.
The money would have gone to compensate the victims, pay for future health screenings, and in some cases relocate households. Instead, Citgo will pay only a $2 million fine that is the legal minimum for its criminal violation of the Clean Air Act. This was the first time an oil refinery had been held criminally liable under the Act.