"Yesterday we got to show some of the decision makers what the impacts of their decisions are by exposing them for just a short period of time to what local folks are exposed to every minute of every day in these communities," said Nathalie Walker of Earthjustice's New Orleans office. "Today, they are hearing firsthand from the folks who live and work in these areas how vitally important Clean Air Act rules are and how the poisonous pollution coming from these facilities is literally killing them and their families. It's one thing to make a decision from behind a desk in Washington, D.C. It's quite another to see in-person what we're talking about."
At a press conference and rally today, local citizens and environmental leaders detailed the dangers from refinery operations and the health problems that affect the communities surrounding them. Mossville, a southwestern Louisiana community, has no less than 17 industrial facilities operating within one-half mile of its African-American residents. "It's good that EPA and the Department of Energy are having these meetings, but it will mean something only if they listen to the people who have taken the time to come and speak," said Edgar Mouton, Jr., President of Mossville Environmental Action Now. "If they're just going through the motions to appear impartial, then all Americans should be outraged."
In his energy plan, President Bush directed EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman to review the Clean Air Act's New Source Review program, a vital component of the Act that regulates new pollution emissions. The New Source Review program requires both new and existing facilities to reduce the kinds of pollution that can trigger asthma attacks and other serious health problems. Before an older facility makes a major modification that results in pollution increases, New Source Review requires that facility to install modern pollution control technology. The EPA has reported that 80 percent of all oil refineries in the nation are in violation of the New Source Review program.
"These hearings and their outcomes and the decisions made will have lasting effects on people all across the country – not just in Louisiana," said Walker. "From the northeast to California and back to Texas and the southeast, these refineries and power plants are spewing high levels of pollution that need to be significantly reduced, certainly not increased."
Hazardous air pollutants emitted by oil refineries include benzene, a known human carcinogen. According to the US Department of Justice and the EPA, the failure of power plants to install new emission controls results in tens of millions of tons of sulfur dioxide and particulate matter being emitted into the air. In Mossville for example, industry spews nearly 50,000 tons of sulfur dioxide into the air each year. Sulfur dioxide is known to trigger asthma attacks and it contributes to the growing number of children and adults suffering from this respiratory disease. Fine particle pollution emitted from refineries is responsible for more than 60,000 premature deaths each year in the United States.