AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline) - Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday charged BP Products North America with "illegally emitting" close to 500,000 pounds of pollutants from its Texas City refinery for more than a month.

The state's investigation shows that BP's failure to properly maintain its equipment caused the malfunction and could have been prevented, Abbott's office said in a statement.

According to the complaint, BP "admitted to the release of air contaminants to the atmosphere" at the refinery after an April 6 fire on part of a ultracracking unit.

BP restarted the ultracracker and another unit before repairing a compressor, sending benzene, carbon monoxide and other pollutants into the air for about a month, the state said.

"BP decided to continue those units so as not to reduce productivity," the State said in the complaint. "BP made very little attempt to minimize the emission of air contaminants caused by its actions, once again prioritizing profits over environmental compliance."

The State also has a pending action over an alleged release of contaminants related to a 2005 explosion at the Texas City refinery, Abbott said. That blast killed 15 workers and led to a $50 million fine by the U.S. for a violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

BP "will continue to cooperate with the Attorney General's Office" and the Texas environmental quality agency "to resolve their concerns," Scott Dean, a spokesman for the company, said in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg News.

The company declined further comment on the litigation, he said.

Lawyers for workers at the Texas City refinery and nearby residents filed a class action last week, alleging they were injured by emissions from April 6-May 16.

The lawsuits are unrelated to the Gulf oil spill.

An explosion and fire occurred on Transocean's drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, licensed to BP, on April 20, killing 11 workers and resulting in the largest offshore spill in U.S. history.

Abbott is seeking civil penalties of no less than $50 and no greater than $25,000 per day of each violation of state air quality laws, as well as attorneys fees and investigative costs.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at

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