Grantees uncover efforts to minimize pollution detection at Koch-owned chemical plant in Texas; EPA vows action as a result of story

Oxbow Calcining’s Port Arthur plant, owned by Bill Koch, emits more than double the amount of sulfur dioxide than the average U.S. coal-fired power plant. Grist / Jacque Jackson

Acting on a tip, Naveena Sadasivam and Clayton Aldern investigated how a plant owned by billionaire Bill Koch tried to distort data about emissions of dangerous sulfur dioxide in Port Arthur, Texas. Reporting for Grist with support from the Fund, they found that soon after the state installed a monitor at the plant, the company set up an alert system to help ensure that emissions did not trigger a reading above the legal limit when the wind blew toward the monitor. That means that when the wind was blowing in other directions, the plant was likely exceeding the limit but escaped detection. Such tactics apparently allowed the company to continue polluting and worsen air quality in a predominantly Black neighborhood where residents suffer from high rates of cancer and respiratory illness. A former Environmental Protection Agency official characterized the action as “clearly a criminal violation of the Clean Air Act.” A spokesperson for the EPA said the agency will take action as a result of the investigative reporting. The piece was co-published by the Houston Chronicle and Beaumont Enterprise and was featured on National Public Radio’s “Here and Now.”