Attorney General’s office not setting TPC investigation timeline

Published 12:13 am Friday, December 20, 2019

There is no set timeline for the Texas attorney general’s office to complete their investigation of TPC Group following two Nov. 27 plant explosions in Port Neches.

In addition, officials said they cannot directly answer questions regarding the case.

“Unfortunately, we cannot comment on specifics at this time,” attorney general’s office spokeswoman Kayleigh Date said. “When our office receives a referral from another state agency, we typically do not comment on ongoing investigations or potential litigation.”

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Sara Cronin, a spokesperson for TPC, said they are aware of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality hearing that took place Wednesday but have not yet seen a petition filed.

“We remain focused on safely bringing this event to an end, minimizing impact to the environment while preserving the safety of emergency responders and the community,” Cronin said. “We have been working in cooperation with the relevant agencies and will continue to do so.”

The TCEQ commissioners voted unanimously this week to bump the case to the attorney general’s office after hearing from a number of local residents and environmentalists who convoyed to Austin.

The group included former Port Arthur councilmember and founder of Port Arthur Community Action Network John Beard, Groves resident Suzanne Williamson, Port Arthur business owner Fred Vernon and area researcher and Public Citizen community organizer Stephanie Thomas. They spoke on the Nov. 27 explosions at the Port Neches facility.

They came away feeling as if their voices were heard.

Beard, who worked at a local refinery for over 38 years, said the ruling to bump up the case to the AG’s office is a good sign.

“You don’t have a major incident without several smaller ones,” Beard said.

Beard said the way the fines are assessed and levied is ineffective and not a deterrent. In a conversation with The Port Arthur News, Beard called out elected officials, as well, saying they need to get on board and be more proxies for TPC, that they need to be advocates for the people that elected them.

More questions

Beard has questions about TPC that weren’t previously voiced — one being the lack of transparency.

A fire at TPC burned from Nov. 27 to Dec. 3. Then on Dec. 6 small residual fires were noted in the impacted area that the Unified Command said was anticipated and contained. Those fires are still burning.

Beard takes issue with earlier comments from TPC saying they did not know what chemicals were burning.

“It doesn’t make sense to have a fire and not know what’s burning,” he said, adding there are laws in place that require refinery facilities to know what their chemical inventory is, as well as local emergency planning information.

He said refining facilities have emergency planning manuals, procedures and a command system, which is supposed to be mobilized during an incident.

He also wants to know who is investigating the facility as it prepares to try and restart.

Another question Beard has is why wasn’t an alarm sounded when the Thanksgiving Eve explosion occurred. He said he spoke with people who live across the street from the plant and they did not hear an alarm.