Activists bring Clean Water Act suit against Formosa

Activists with the San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper organization unload tubs of plastic pellets and powders to be presented in court Monday.

Formosa has released plastic pellets into Lavaca Bay and Cox Creek.

But how much is too much?

Senior U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt will answer that question in the coming months. Thursday, Hoyt heard the testimony of Rick Crabtree, the general manager of Formosa’s plant in Point Comfort, before returning to Houston to deliberate.

“We are proud of our sterling compliance record,” Crabtree said in a statement through his attorney afterward. “We are always trying to improve, but we need a standard from the agency that can be followed.”

Crabtree was referring to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which issued Formosa a wastewater permit in the ‘90s that prohibits the company from “discharging solids in other than trace amounts.”

About this time last year, Crabtree agreed that Formosa had violated that permit and the company paid a more than $122,000 fine.

Diane Wilson and other environmental activists say Formosa knows what trace amounts are and that it has gone over them. They say they brought the Clean Water Act suit against Formosa to hold them accountable because the TCEQ has not. They are seeking a $184 million fine.

“What Formosa seems to be saying is that they’ve been discharging 26 years of trace amounts and it is not illegal. That is certainly not our position,” Wilson said Thursday.

Amy Johnson, an attorney who represented Wilson and the others, said Crabtree testified that he agreed Formosa violated the permit only because it was convenient to do so. Hoyt told the attorneys Thursday that if he finds that Formosa is guilty, the penalty phase of the trial will be in Victoria so the community can attend.

“I think that’s important,” he said.

One of Formosa’s attorneys, Steve Ravel, asked whether he could file additional briefs with the court because Hoyt did not elect to hear closing arguments. Hoyt said Ravel could file the briefs as long he didn’t try to introduce new evidence and give Johnson and her team the opportunity to respond. Hoyt seemed concerned about the amount of material he’d have to read, which was a lot.

“I’m just warning you right now if you’re going to settle the case, call me right away,” Hoyt said.

“Not much chance of that, judge,” Ravel said, jokingly.

Jessica Priest reports on the environment and Calhoun County for the Victoria Advocate. She may be reached at jpriest@vicad.com or 361-580-6521.

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Former Environment/Investigations Reporter

Jessica Priest worked for the Victoria Advocate from August 2012-September 2019, first as the courts reporter and then as the environment/investigations reporter. Read her work now at www.jessicapriest.me.

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