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United States v. Citgo Petroleum Corp.

ELR Citation: 45 ELR 20166
Nos. 14-40128, (5th Cir., 09/09/2015)

The Fifth Circuit reversed an oil company's convictions for violating the CAA and Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) in connection with its wastewater treatment system at its Corpus Christi refinery. The company was convicted for knowingly operating two uncovered tanks as oil-water separators without the proper emission control devices and for "taking" migratory birds that were found in the uncovered tanks in violation of the MBTA. Below, the court instructed the jury that an oil-water separator is any equipment used to separate oil from water. But to be an oil-water separator, the equipment must also consist of various parts, including a separation chamber, skimmers, weirs, grit chambers, and sludge hoppers. Because the lower court misstated the scope of the regulation, its jury instruction was erroneous. And because it is undisputed that the tanks at issue here did not have the component parts, there is no doubt that this omission affected the outcome. The company's CAA convictions were therefore reversed. The court also overturned the MBTA convictions because the statute only criminalizes acts related to hunting or poaching, not omissions that unintentionally kill birds.