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He is perhaps BP’s worst nemesis. Texas attorney Anthony Buzbee, after years of pursuing roughly 250 cases against the oil giant, including several over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, is waging yet another war on BP. This one involves a campaign to turn the people of Texas City, Texas, against BP for leaking toxic fumes into their community. “I’m on ‘em like a bulldog,” Buzbee said. This week alone, Buzbee of The Buzbee Law Firm in Houston has signed up nearly 12,000 plaintiffs — that’s roughly 25 percent of the city’s population — to join his recent $10 billion federal lawsuit over an equipment malfunction at BP’s Texas City refinery that released roughly 500,000 pounds of pollutants into the air between April 6 and May 16. The lawsuit, Fontenot v. BP Products N. America Inc., was filed in the Southern District of Texas on Aug. 3 on behalf of refinery workers and residents who claim that BP did not inform city officials of the “scale of the release” until after it was over. “They’re madder than hell,” Buzbee said of the residents, who flooded a convention center this week to add their names to the lawsuit. From 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Aug. 4, he said, more than 4,000 residents converged on the convention center, where Buzbee’s firm leased space for a sign-up session because it was getting flooded with calls from angry residents looking to join the suit. Some 3,400 of them joined the suit at the center, where a long line snaked through the hallways to the sign-up room. His firm had to pay the police extra to stay another hour. Some vendors even sold tacos outside. The law firm had the names of many other plaintiffs who were not added on until after the filing. “It was a mad house,” Buzbee said, noting that another sign-up session has been set for Aug. 9. “The people of Texas City are fed up…What’s amazing to me is that Texas City has always been willing to give BP a pass because they’re a huge employer and a huge taxpayer. And it appears to me that that pass is being pulled now.” And not just by the residents, but the politicians, too, he added. On Aug. 4, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality issued a report that found that BP has a pattern of poor operation and maintenance practices at its Texas City refinery. The findings were released after the commission investigated the 46-day release of toxic chemicals from the plant this spring — the same release that is the subject of Buzbee’s lawsuit. The commission delivered its findings to Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott after concluding that BP’s violations are “egregious.” “Since we first received the referral from the TCEQ, we have been working diligently to prepare an enforcement action against BP,” said Tom Kelley, a spokesman for Abbott’s office, in a statement. “The Texas Attorney General’s Office will take all necessary action to hold BP accountable for additional unauthorized emissions at its Texas City facility.” According to Kelley, Abbott is looking into 77 air quality violations at the refinery that have been referred to his office by the TCEQ. BP’s Texas City oil refinery — the third largest in the country — has been the subject of many lawsuits and investigations over the years. In March 2005, an explosion at the refinery — the highest-profile BP disaster before the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion — left 15 people dead and 170 injured. BP was fined $50 million for violating the Clean Air Act over the accident, and last year the Occupational Safety and Health Administration hit the company with an additional $87 million fine — four times greater than any other OSHA fine — for uncorrected safety hazards, which BP is contesting. Four years of private litigation in state court ended in confidential settlements in 2006 and 2007 for the families of those killed and for the injured. More recently, in Dec. 2009, a federal jury in Galveston, Texas, awarded $100.3 million to 10 workers who became ill after being exposed to toxic fumes at BP’s Texas City plant in 2007. Buzbee, who represented the plaintiffs in that case, said BP has yet to learn its lesson. “Shoot, I’ve tried cases against BP, and even pounded them with a $100.3 million verdict…and they don’t get it. They don’t get that they need to change their way of doing business.” BP issued this statement in response to the lawsuit: “Based on our understanding of the facts and circumstances, BP does not believe there is any basis to pay claims in connection with this event. BP is not taking or paying such claims.” BP also said that air monitoring systems around the refinery saw no increases in pollution during the period of the compressor malfunction, stating: “During the Ultracracker compressor outage of April-May, the community air monitoring network did not show elevated readings.” BP added, “Similarly, the site’s recently enhanced fence line monitoring did not show a ground level impact throughout the event.”

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