- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 12, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Chevron isn’t cooperating with a state investigation that has claimed the company has fraudulently bilked more than $18 million from a petroleum cleanup fund, the Tennessee attorney general says in a lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, filed Friday in Davidson County Chancery Court, Attorney General Herbert Slatery asks a judge to hold Chevron and three related companies in contempt for not responding fully to investigative document requests.

The investigation stems from a 2015 lawsuit by the attorney general claiming Chevron, a partnership and three subsidiaries used gas tax revenue over three decades to pay for leaks and spills at more than 100 Tennessee gas stations, despite having private insurance that covered cleanups.

In 2015, Chevron responded that in some instances it sought state funds to make up the difference in costs after receiving insurance payouts. Chevron didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Friday’s filing says the 2015 lawsuit was dropped because it lacked the information requested of Chevron but will be refiled when Chevron fulfills the investigative requests.

The latest court filing says Chevron has “engaged in a strategy of obfuscation and delay” instead of just complying with the state’s four investigative demands of Chevron subsidiary companies.

It says Chevron is required to turn over information for between 115 and 250 underground storage tank facilities, but in two and a half years Chevron and the associated companies have produced records addressing only 16 of them.

Chevron further delayed the process by saying it was interested in settling the case, and after producing only a fraction of the documents requested, told the attorney general to petition the judge if the state wants more information, the filing states.

Money from the Tennessee Petroleum Underground Storage Tank Fund - raised through a tax of four-tenths of a cent per gallon - is intended as a last-resort fund for owners who cannot afford spill cleanup costs.

The new court filing says Chevron and its companies “engaged in a widespread and systemic course of fraud on the government” by submitting claims for the cleanup funds to which they weren’t entitled; deliberately misrepresented the dates of spills to qualify for funds; and failed to report the spills to state environmental regulators at numerous sites within 72 hours, as the state requires.

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