KMCO 'thorn in our side' that 'should not reopen': County

CROSBY, Texas (KTRK) -- With the final wisps of smoke still rising from the KMCO facility in Crosby, Harris County's chief environmental lawyer called the company, "a thorn in the side of (Harris) County for years."

Assistant Harris County Attorney Roc Owens told 13 Investigates, "The plant is dangerous and should not reopen, if it is ever allowed to until Harris County, the TCEQ and EPA says it is safe."

It is not an empty threat.

CROSBY EXPLOSION: What is KMCO, site of deadly blast

Harris County is currently suing KMCO, alleging air, water and nuisance violations. The case, scheduled for trial in June, currently aims to force the company into compliance. Owens says the case could be amended to seek a long-term closure.

It is far from the only legal issue facing the company. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality filed court papers seeking immediate compliance with Texas Clear Air Laws.

It is a violation of Texas law to put out emissions that exceed permitted levels. TCEQ's executive director vows to "hold KMCO fully responsible."

TIMELINE: How the KMCO chemical plant fire unfolded in Crosby

Government records show KMCO knows its way to court.

In 2016, KMCO's parent company pleaded guilty to "knowing" and "negligent" violations of federal environmental laws. Among the violations, federal prosecutors allege in court documents, "the company failed to perform any leak detection monitoring of facility processing components for fugitive VOC emissions." Prosecutors allege it continued from 2008 to 2012. KMCO's parent company paid a $3.5 million fine in conjunction with its guilty pleas.

EPA records show the company has been out of compliance with federal air or water standards 36 of the last 48 months.

OSHA records show 54 violations in 2010 and 2011. OSHA described almost all of them as serious violations and fined the company more than $200,000 in 2010 and 2011.

Among the problems were violations of chemical process standards, safely handling of 'highly hazardous' chemicals, and emergency plan standards.

Elena Craft, PhD, the Environmental Defense Fund's senior director for climate and health, said in a statement, "Texas is failing to protect people from chemical fires and explosions and rogue releases of toxic air pollution. It is untenable. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality must inspect every single facility every single year. That should be a bare minimum."

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