Days before a contempt trial, the company reached a settlement agreement Thursday with the Natural Resources Defense Council, NRDC, and Delaware Audubon Society for repeated violations of water pollution permits and court orders.
U.S. District Court Judge Sue Robinson in Wilmington stayed the trial that was to begin October 1 after attorneys notified her of a settlement in principle.
'Texaco waged a war of attrition, clearly expecting that NRDC and Delaware Audubon would blink first,' said NRDC attorney Mitchell Bernard. 'But for 20 years, we didn’t give up and we didn’t go away. Today we are holding Texaco accountable for its environmental lawbreaking, and making sure that they do right by the communities that have had to live with Texaco’s pollution.'
More than $1 million will go to Delaware State Parks projects including reforestation, invasive species control, and installation of a remote camera and video display terminals at the Pea Patch Island Heronry. The sum of $675,000 will be provided to Main Street Delaware City, Inc. to support several projects under their ecotourism program, including a recreational trail along the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.
The groups had taken Texaco to court five separate times over the past two decades to stop the oil company from polluting the Delaware River with discharges from its Delaware City Refinery, which is now owned by Valero.
The original legal action was filed against Texaco in 1988 by Delaware Audubon and NRDC as a citizen lawsuit under the federal Clean Water Act for water discharge violations at the Delaware City Refinery.
NRDC and Delaware Audubon won the first of three court trials against Texaco in 1992, after NRDC scientists uncovered evidence from the oil company's internal reports that it had been knowingly discharging oil, grease and other highly toxic pollutants into the Delaware since 1983, in excess of what its permit allowed.
A federal judge, calling the case 'practically unassailable,' determined that Texaco had violated the Clean Water Act on a total 3,360 days.
The company was ordered to pay a fine of $1.68 million, to fully comply with water pollution laws and to ascertain the damage it had caused to the fragile Delaware River ecosystem. Over the next 15 years, Delaware Audubon and NRDC took Texaco back to court repeatedly to enforce the terms of the original court orders.
Today’s settlement stems from a contempt motion filed against Texaco by the two groups in 2005. The contempt motion alleged the oil giant violated elements of a court order requiring the company to study the impacts of its unlawful pollution discharges on the Delaware River.
Under the pressure of an imminent trial, Texaco reached a settlement. The settlement agreement signed by Motiva president and chief executive William Welte will end the lawsuit.
'The areas around Delaware City represent some of the most important ecosystems in the state and the region,' said Nick DiPasquale, conservation chair for Delaware Audubon.
'Over the past half century, this area has suffered significantly as a result of environmental assaults from the Delaware City industrial complex. Nonetheless, these ecosystems have survived,' he said. 'The environmental projects funded by this settlement will go a long way toward restoring the ecology of the area and enhancing public access to some of Delaware’s most remarkable natural resources.'