A community group in Pascagoula, Mississippi, today filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its approval of new chemicals to make fuels despite finding that the resulting air pollution would pose a cancer risk 250,000 times greater than what the agency typically considers unreasonable.
Cherokee Concerned Citizens is challenging EPA’s decision to allow the world’s largest Chevron refinery — located about a mile away from their neighborhood — to turn plastic waste into fuels. EPA determined that the production of Chevron’s new chemicals will pose up to a 1 in 4 cancer risk, meaning 25% of residents living nearby could develop cancer over their lifetime.
Under the Toxic Substances Control Act, EPA can’t approve new chemicals with serious health or environmental risks without identifying and implementing ways to minimize the dangers. The agency can also order lab testing that would clarify such risks. EPA did not do either before approving Chevron’s request to produce this hazardous fuel.
“EPA’s decision to let Chevron poison the community in Pascagoula with chemicals posing astronomical cancer risks makes a mockery of the agency’s stated commitments to environmental justice,” said Earthjustice attorney Katherine O’Brien. “EPA needs to follow the law and protect people at the fenceline, not greenwash for Chevron by passing off the company’s plastic-waste fuel as a solution to the climate crisis.”
The Cherokee Concerned Citizens represent a fenceline community overburdened by pollution from several facilities including the Chevron refinery, which is visible from their neighborhood, a BP gas processing plant, the Mississippi Phosphates superfund site, and more. A total of 70 toxic chemical releases, from benzene to formaldehyde, have been reported to regulatory agencies by the facilities in Pascagoula.
“We can’t tolerate it anymore,” said Barbara Weckesser, co-founder of Cherokee Concerned Citizens. “It’s always been profit over the people, but it must end now. The residents in our community are already at a higher risk of developing health problems because of all the industry polluting our neighborhood. The EPA’s approval of Chevron’s ask is forcing us to fight, leave, or stay here and die.”
EPA approved Chevron’s creation of fuel products from discarded plastics under a program that it says will help “confront the climate crisis” by promoting the development of new biofuels to replace petroleum-based fuels. But fuel made from plastic waste is not biofuel; it’s part of the oil and gas industry’s last-ditch effort to protect their profits by betting big on petrochemicals, which are converted components of oil and gas used to make plastic building blocks.
In the U.S., the industry is planning a massive build-out of petrochemical plants. Many of these facilities are planned in low-income communities and communities of color already overburdened by pollution and a long history of environmental racism. If the build-out goes forward, it will lock in more climate pollution, plastic waste, and toxic chemicals that poison communities.