Gulf coast citizen activists battling for clean air traveled today to Washington, D.C. to confront the Bush administration on the public health impacts of its energy plan. The plan calls for the Environmental Protection Agency to lead a 90-day review of the impacts of enforcing the Clean Air Act's New Source Review program on investment in utility and refinery capacity. New Source Review requires new facilities and old industrial facilities that make major changes that increase pollution levels to install the most up-to-date pollution controls.
Justice Department actions yesterday reveal that this process is more than a review. The department has frozen all pending New Source Review enforcement actions against utility and oil companies. "What next? The Justice Department has pulled the rug out from under us," said Dagmar Darjean, a member of Mossville Environmental Action Now, who lives within one-half mile of the Citgo and Conoco oil refineries as well as 15 other industrial facilities in southwest Louisiana. "It is illegal and immoral that oil refineries can get away with polluting our families. We're the ones who have to rush our children to the emergency room when they have bad asthma attacks. We have to run indoors when the refineries spew toxic fumes into our community."
Five representatives from communities in Texas and Louisiana urged EPA not to roll back the Clean Air Act program, but instead to enforce it stringently among industries that are breaking the law. The citizen activists presented reports showing the extensive health problems in their neighborhoods from oil refineries' violations and how poorly environmental laws are enforced by state agencies. They also demanded that EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman visit the gulf coast communities that would suffer if New Source Review were rolled back. "The last thing we need is Bush's energy plan. If he really cared about children, he would want them healthy, not suffering from asthma," said LaNelle Anderson, a resident of Houston who is actively working to reduce oil refinery pollution.
"The fact that 140 million Americans suffer from asthma attacks, many of whom live in areas in Louisiana, Texas, and other states that have unhealthy air, makes it clear that we need vigorous enforcement of NSR," said Monique Harden, an attorney for Earthjustice in Louisiana.
Environmental organizations and community activists are also concerned about EPA's process for reviewing NSR, which requires participants in any of the four public hearings to register over the internet 48 hours in advance, a problem for many people without internet access. In addition, the first document released by EPA as part of its review, a summary report of information available to the agency, contains no reference to numerous documents available to EPA that focus on public health or environmental benefits of NSR, the impact of oil refineries and utilities on nearby communities, or the efforts by companies to avoid the NSR pollution reduction requirements.