The Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today that they will take the Agency to court if it fails to crack down on toxic pollution from petrochemical plants and refineries. The notice letters, filed on behalf of a coalition of community organizations, allege that EPA has failed to meet Clean Air Act deadlines for revising rules to require more accurate reporting of refinery emissions, and for setting standards that protect nearby communities from health threats that result from such pollution.
(C. Young / NASA)
The NOI filings come on the same day EIP is slated to issue a new report detailing roughly 100,000 tons of “accidental” and “non-routine” pollution from refineries, natural gas facilities, and chemical plants in Texas from 2009–2011.
The petrochemical industry releases large amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) every year that contribute to smog, and include cancer-causing pollutants like benzene, butadiene naphthalene, polycyclic organic matter (POM), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), ethylene dibromide, acrolein, mercury, cadmium, lead, and arsenic, among others. But multiple studies have shown that the emissions the industry reports may represent ten percent or less of what some refinery units actually release to the air. Emission reporting for some of the workhorse units at these plants—including tanks, flares, and wastewater treatment systems—are estimated based on outdated and inaccurate formulas. Studies at Marathon, Shell Deer Park, and BP have measured actual releases from these units at concentrations ten to more than a hundred times higher than previously reported.
The EPA is required to review and revise the methods used to estimate emissions at least once every three years. The Agency has failed to do so, even after receiving a petition from the City of Houston asking EPA to close these loopholes that allow hundreds of thousands of tons of pollution to escape detection and reporting every year. This is the subject of the first NOI letter.
“Hiding emissions through bad data does no one any favors,” said EIP Director Eric Schaeffer. “Without accurate monitoring, communities near refineries are exposed to dirtier air. Refineries also miss opportunities to stop leaks, and recapture and reuse gases that are released to the environment today as pollution.”
Schaeffer added, “Refineries have the know-how to fix some of these problems—and they will if EPA starts accounting for this pollution.”
The Clean Air Act also requires EPA to evaluate how refinery pollution affects the health of downwind communities—and to set standards that protect those neighborhoods from unreasonable health risks, with “an ample margin of safety.” In addition, EPA must review and upgrade limits on toxic air pollutants, based on the maximum reductions that can be achieved. EPA has missed both deadlines for many years. The agency has failed to take action, depriving communities of the protection they are entitled to under the law. The second notice letter sent today informs EPA that community groups plan to take the Agency to court for its failure to act.
“Communities around the U.S. should not have to keep waiting for basic public health protection from the dangerous pollution that refineries put into our air,” said Earthjustice attorney Emma Cheuse. “EPA must act now to do its job and get the refineries air toxics rule done, as the Clean Air Act requires.”
Jane Williams, executive director of California Communities Against Toxics said: “Children’s health and environmental justice must be the touchstone of what EPA does in its rules for refineries. EPA needs to strengthen the pollution limits that apply to refineries now, so that another generation of kids doesn’t have to grow up without the basic protection that EPA is supposed to give them.”
Cynthia Babich, executive director of the Del Amo Action Committee said: “On behalf of all of the people who live near a refinery that emits pollutants that can cause cancer, chronic, and acute health problems, we’re asking EPA to finally give our communities the protection we need from toxic air pollution.”
Hilton Kelley, executive director of Communities In-power and Development said: "The Environmental Protection Agency must do a better job of counting the toxic pollution dumped into low-income and minority communities. We must stop the onslaught of this toxic pollution that is causing liver disease, heart disease, and cancer in the communities I advocate for."
EPA first issued section 112 air toxics rules for refineries in 1995 and 2002. EPA‘s public health and technology review rules under section 112(f)(2) and (d)(6) for most of the refineries source category are nearly 9 years overdue, and for other key components (such as catalytic cracking and sulfur plant units) are more than 2 years overdue.
There is significant information available demonstrating that refineries can control their pollution at a much greater rate than many facilities currently do. In fact many companies have agreed to do so as a result of enforcement action EPA has taken. See http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/cases/civil/caa/oil.