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Citgo plead guilty to violating environmental laws

After a massive oil spill in southwestern Louisiana, Citgo have pleaded guilty to violating environmental laws

Citgo Petroleum Corp. have pleaded guilty to violating environmental laws in a massive 2006 oil spill at its refinery in southwestern Louisiana.

The spill shut 20 miles of the Calcasieu River, its ship channel and three area lakes for weeks costing millions of dollars and involved thousands of workers. About 53,000 barrels of oil were discharged into the Indian Marais and Calcasieu rivers.

The U.S. Justice Department said in a news release that Citgo pleaded guilty to negligently failing to maintain storm water tanks and failing to maintain adequate storm water storage capacity at its refinery.

The company must pay $13 million, the largest fine ever for a criminal misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act, the Justice Department said.

The refinery, which is in Sulphur about 20 miles from the Texas border, also must implement a comprehensive environmental compliance program.

"The protection of the environment is among our highest priorities," said U.S. Attorney Donald Washington. "We will not allow corporations or their employees to escape liability for failing to do their part in preventing harm to the environment."

The guilty plea comes nearly three months after the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Quality sued Citgo, which is an arm of Venezuela's state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA.

The EPA contends that Citgo failed to maintain its wastewater treatment facilities and oil skimming system for 10 years before the spill.

In 1994, Citgo converted its lagoon waste water system into a tank system for handling excess wastewater and storm water. To cut costs, only two storm water tanks were built, but as early as 1998, employees and outside contractors advised Citgo that an additional tank was needed, federal authorities said.

Despite being notified of the inadequate storage capacity, Citgo did not approve construction of a third tank until 2005, officials said. The company was also accused of failing to follow standard procedures for maintaining the tanks.

A heavy rainstorm in June 2006 overwhelmed the capacity of the two existing tanks and forced oil that had collected in the tanks into the two rivers.
The company admitted earlier this year in state court that it was at fault for the spill, which generated more than 200 lawsuits.