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Arkema indictments

This will cause a stir.

A Harris County grand jury on Friday indicted the French chemical company Arkema and two executives for the “reckless” release of toxic chemicals during Hurricane Harvey last August, a move that alarmed industry leaders and surprised environmental advocates.

The company, CEO Richard Rowe and plant manager Leslie Comardelle put residents and first responders at risk when the Crosby plant caught fire as Harvey dumped record rainfall on the Houston area, according to the Harris County District Attorney’s office.

“As the hurricane approached, Arkema was more concerned about production and profit than people,” said Alexander Forrest, chief of the District Attorney’s environmental crimes division.

The last time a chemical company faced criminal charges for a major incident in Texas was 2005, when an explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery killed 15 workers and injured almost 200. BP paid $50 million in fines for the incident but no one from the company served prison time.

Arkema called the criminal charges filed against it “astonishing” and pledged to fight them vigorously.

“There has never been an indictment like this in Texas or any other state,” Arkema attorney Rusty Hardin said. “It would set an ominous precedent if a company could be held criminally liable for impact suffered as a result of the historic flooding of Hurricane Harvey that no one, including Harris County itself, was prepared for.”

But federal documents showed Arkema wasn’t even prepared for a much smaller flood, despite being partially located in a floodplain.


Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said she’d go after companies who pollute. Environmental advocates applauded her actions.

“I hope these kinds of criminal charges will really get the attention of not just Arkema but the industry more broadly,” said Luke Metzger, executive director of the advocacy group Environment Texas. “They can’t play fast and loose with safety standards and the protection of the public.”

See here, here, and here for some background. Arkema is also being sued by Harris County, which is usually how these things go when any action is taken. Going for indictments is a bold move, one that hasn’t been done before, but one that is at least worth considering, given the circumstances. Whether the indictments will survive the motions to quash them, and the appeals in those motions are denied, is the key question. I will keep an eye on this.

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  1. Andrew Lynch says:

    Criminal charges is “astonishing” given that no lives were lost. Huge civil fines seem the better path in this court case.

    This lawyer is milking the Harvey free publicity train.

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    Why hasn’t Kim Ogg gotten all the local water treatment plant managers and executives arrested for dumping raw sewage into our local waterways? They also suffered an unimaginable natural disaster that overwhelmed their systems and backup electric generators. Maybe she should team up with Mueller to do no knock raids at 3 am and hold those managers and their families at gunpoint. That’ll show them.

    This whole thing is disgusting, and proof that yes, a ham sandwich really can be indicted. We are punishing a victim of a natural disaster for being a victim. Her predecessor was excoriated for jailing a rape victim to force her to testify against her rapist and progressives were so appalled at that they booted her out of office. When Ogg prosecutes a victim, hey, no problem, because businesses are evil, so screw them.

  3. Manny Barrera says:

    Andrew your statement suggests that only when lives are lost there should be criminal charges. Do your really believe that?

  4. Manny Barrera says:

    Do you

  5. Bill Daniels says:

    What’s your position on this, Manny? The plant had a system of backup generators, there specifically in case of an emergency, to supply power to the refrigeration units on the trailers that exploded. Those backup generators went underwater and failed. Do YOU think that’s a crime? Do YOU think the plant manager needs to be jailed for that? Do YOU want waste water plant operators arrested, too?

    I think everyone here has been on record as saying that collectively, none of us had ever seen anything like the Harvey flooding.

  6. Bill Daniels says:

    Why weren’t the building managers in the Texas Medical Center hauled off to jail after Tropical Storm Allison? Why weren’t hospital CEO’s in the Med Center dragged off to jail?

  7. Manny Barrera says:

    Bill I have really not studied that issue, as the corporation is not a person that can be jailed. I am not sure what if any a criminal conviction would do. I know what it did to the accounting firm for Enron.

    The accounting firm was put out of business,

    But based on the what Kuff has, I don’t know why it would pollute because it was an Act Of God (Harvey). But I would have to read up on it, and it is not something that would draw my attention or that I am really interested in.

    Frankly I think the case will be dismissed, probably on appeal but would not be surprised if they lost in District Criminal Court.

  8. Manny Barrera says:

    Went to the Chronicle and it seems that two executives were indicted and could face five years.