A collaboration of state, local, and national groups today released a new study that calculates, for the first time ever, the pollution burden that the nation could suffer if the Bush administration succeeds in its likely proposal to gut the Clean Air Act's New Source Review program. The report, Smokestack Rollback: How the Bush administration's Clean Air Act proposals will increase toxic refinery pollution and jeopardize public health, focuses on the public health threats posed by expected increases in oil industry pollution as a result of the Bush administration's proposals.
"Refinery air pollution is already a nationwide problem and the Bush proposals could make it many times worse, our new study proves," said Kelly Haragan of Public Citizen, the primary researcher of the emissions increases. "Whether there is a refinery in your backyard or not, many Americans live downwind of these giant polluters."
The Bush administration's proposal would roll back the Clean Air Act's New Source Review Program. NSR protects public health by requiring oil refineries and other industrial facilities to install modern pollution control equipment when they make major pollution-increasing modifications to their facilities. According to the groups' analysis of 17 of these facilities, the administration's proposed changes to NSR would allow the nation's oil giants to increase their emissions, with pollution increasing by anywhere from two to a hundred forty times, without having to install pollution controls.
"These changes would decimate basic public health protections that have been in place for more than 30 years," said Sandra Schubert, legislative counsel for Earthjustice. "To allow emissions to increase to these levels without pollution controls undermines the very intent of the Clean Air Act."
While much national and regional attention on air pollution has highlighted the problem of dirty, aging power plants, this new report exposes oil refineries as a "sleeping giant" of harmful air pollution for much of the nation. Refineries often have been considered toxic hot spot problems in the South where they are concentrated, but Smokestack Rollback reveals that 36 states and 125 U.S. cities, where more than 67 million people live, are polluted by refineries.
"This new study proves rolling back our clean air protections under New Source Review will poison the air for more than 60 million Americans," said Denny Larson, Refinery Reform Campaign Coordinator of the Texas SEED Coalition.
Groups fighting air pollution threats from oil refineries across the nation prepared the report to expose how the Bush administration has targeted New Source Review for rollbacks. Enforcement of the law has been problematic since its inception in the 1970s, according to Environmental Protection Agency findings that 80 percent of oil refineries are in violation of New Source Review.
"Instead of stepping up efforts vigorously to enforce NSR, the Bush administration is trying to gut the programs on behalf of industrial polluters," said Ann Rolfes of Louisiana Bucket Brigade.
The report highlights how the Bush administration's proposal could open huge loopholes for polluting industries to avoid reducing emissions. Specifically the proposal would raise the threshold for which modifications trigger NSR, so that a facility could practically build a new unit without any air pollution reduction requirements. Not only would this lead to more local toxic air pollution, but it would also exacerbate regional smog problems and increase negative health impacts of air pollution.
"It is not common sense or balanced policy to increase pollution that can trigger asthma and other respiratory diseases, cause cancer, and create cardiovascular problems. The Bush administration ignores the severe health crisis it would create for both the communities that are suffering from nearby refinery pollution and the public-at-large who are also affected by industrial air pollution," said Neil Carman of the Lone Star Sierra Club.
The report was written by Earthjustice, Lone Star Sierra Club, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Public Citizen's Texas Office, and the Texas SEED Coalition.
It is available for download here