EPA Rule Cracks Down on Refinery Pollution

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 @ 12:05 AM gHale

To protect neighborhoods located near oil refineries, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Thursday proposed to update the air pollution standards for refineries.

The EPA’s proposal would, for the first time, require monitoring of air concentrations of benzene around the fence line perimeter of refineries to ensure that emissions are controlled. These results would be available to the public.

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The proposal would also require upgraded emission controls for storage tanks, including controls for smaller tanks; performance requirements for flares to ensure that waste gases end up properly destroyed; and emissions standards for delayed coking units, which are currently a significant unregulated source of toxic air emissions at refineries, the agency said.

“The common-sense steps we are proposing will protect the health of families who live near refineries and will provide them with important information about the quality of the air they breathe,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

The newly proposed standards come in response to a 2012 lawsuit filed by the public interest law firm Earthjustice and the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project on behalf of affected community groups in Texas, California and Louisiana.

The groups said while the EPA, under the Clean Air Act, had to update refinery pollution standards every eight years, the agency had failed to do so. The suit ended up resolved in a court ordered consent decree filed January 13, 2014 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that set the rulemaking schedule.

The decree commits the EPA to perform risk and technology reviews for maximum achievable control technology in two categories of refinery processes. The agency agreed to propose final updates to the MACT standards by today’s date, and promulgate them by April 17, 2015.

After the consent decree ended up signed, EPA conducted a demographic analysis of individuals living near petroleum refineries for different social, demographic and economic groups. The agency found that about half of the people most at risk from refinery emissions are minorities, roughly twice the percentage of minorities in the general population.

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