Corpus Christi Residents Successfully Protest Las Brisas Refinery 2008-2013

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Timing
Time Period:  
2008
2011
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
Corpus Christi, Texas
Location Description: 
The Corpus Christi area is home to a number of refineries and oil is a huge source of income for Texas at large.
Goals: 
Prevent Las Brisas refinery from opening
 

In 2008, when plans were made public to open the Las Brisas Refinery in Corpus Christi, the city’s residents felt the pollution produced by a refinery using petroleum coke, an abundant byproduct of oil refining, was simply too much in addition to the pollution produced by the refineries already there. The proposed refinery would potentially provide 80-100 permanent jobs and 1,300 jobs during the construction phase, and produce 1,200 megawatts of lower cost electricity. Las Brisas’ parent company, Chase Power, stressed these positive results when introducing their building plans. However, local environmental activists opposed the refinery because of the potential health hazard it posed to the Texas city, whose air quality is already some of the worst in the state.
In 2008, the Las Brisas refinery filed a request with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to use pet-coke (petroleum-coke is a byproduct of oil-refining which, if inhaled, can cause damage to the heart and lungs) but it was not until 2011 that this request was approved and a license to use pet-coke was granted. However, citizens remained unconvinced that its use would not adversely affect the breathability of the city’s air. Noting the effects of the pet-coke refinery in Chicago, the Clean Economy Coalition began notifying the Corpus Christi residents of the harmful effects of pet-coke use. Chairman of the Clean Economy Coalition, Professor Jim Klein, estimated that the Las Brisas refinery would increase pollution in Corpus Christi by 70%. The Clean Economy Coalition and Sierra Club wrote letters to Judge Stephen Yelenosky in Texas’s Capitol, Austin, with claims that the refinery would violate National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
With outrage over the Las Brisas plans growing, Clean Economy Coalition began rallying citizens to protest at city events such as the city’s Earth Day Festival and eventually to have a protest march. This march occurred on 15 February 2009, when about 200 citizens gathered at Oleander Point and marched to City Hall, carrying posters and banners and chanting. The citizens then stayed at the entrance to City Hall so that no one could go in or come out of the main entrance without walking through them. The next day, health professionals and medical doctors from the coalition spoke against the refinery at a hearing in City Hall. They cited the asthma rates in the city, already twice as high as the nation’s average, as good reason to protect the air quality in the city. They then prepared to speak at a hearing later that year which would call into question the air permit granted to Las Brisas.
In September 2009, Sierra Club filed a complaint with the TCEQ about the air permit, pointing out that Las Brisas had failed to account for every source of pollution they would be responsible for in their request. A hearing took place on November 12, 2009 to discuss the complaint, after which the administrative law judges recommended that the TCEQ deny the air permit. The TCEQ voted to allow Las Brisas time to amend its request and to then take another look at it. In January 2011, after many months of back and forth between the TCEQ and the city’s administrative judges, the TCEQ finally approved Las Brisas’s air permit request, over the objections of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Opponents of the refinery, including the city’s teachers union, paid for a billboard on the city’s Crosstown Expressway, the main road from the city’s suburbs to its downtown area. The billboard read “Las Brisas is committing environmental discrimination” and endorsed “gasification,” a safer refining process, over the use of pet-coke.
On 18 February 2011 Sierra Club along with other area environmental groups wrote to the EPA to take actions against Las Brisas because it would violate the Clean Air Act. They then engaged in a struggle to have Las Brisas’s air permit revoked, which continued until December 2012, when the EPA sent a letter to Las Brisas, insisting that they alter some of their polluting practices. This struggle went on through a handful of legal hearings held in the Corpus Christi Courthouse. The Sierra Club repeatedly called Las Brisas’ air permit into question, and Las Brisas’ lawyers repeatedly asked to delay hearings in order to more fully prepare their case.
In the end, Las Brisas Refinery never opened. Its failure to open has been attributed to several factors by different sources. Some have said that it was ultimately the EPA whose lack of approval for the pet-coke process caused the refinery plans to halt. It has also been speculated that because there were better prospects in the Eagle Ford Shale, Las Brisas was simply not profitable enough to be a priority to its parent company, and that was why its doors never opened. Additionally, in January of 2013, Chase Power, the parent company for Las Brisas, announced that it was going out of business, and as a result, the Las Brisas project would be scrapped.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Anon. 2013. “Las Brisas | Beyond Coal.” Las Brisas | Beyond Coal. Retrieved March 1, 2015 (http://content.sierraclub.org/coal/environmentallaw/plant/las-brisas).

Doniger, David. 2013. “Las Brisas Power Plant Is Gone With the Wind.” Las Brisas Power Plant Is Gone With the Wind. Retrieved March 2, 2015 (http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/ddoniger/las_brisas_power_plant_is_gone.h tml).

Baird, Mike. 2009. “Marchers Protest Las Brisas Plant.” CCCT. Retrieved March 2, 2015 (http://www.caller.com/news/marchers-protest-las-brisas-plant).

Doniger, David. 2013. “Las Brisas Power Plant Is Gone With the Wind.” Las Brisas Power Plant Is Gone With the Wind. Retrieved March 2, 2015 (http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/ddoniger/las_brisas_power_plant_is_gone.h tml).

Malan, Denise. 2009. “Teachers Union Opposes Las Brisas.” CCCT. Retrieved March 2, 2015 (http://www.caller.com/news/teachers-union-opposes-las-brisas).

Spruill, Rick. 2013. “Las Brisas Project Halted.” CCCT. Retrieved March 2, 2015 (http://www.caller.com/business/local/las-brisas-project-halted).

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Beatriz Grace Baker 01/03/2015