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EPA Proposes New Regulations to Reduce Toxic Pollution Harming Minorities
5/22/2014 12:24:11 PM

Keith Rushing, Earthjustice Campaign Press Secretary

Washington, D.C. -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed new regulations for oil refineries that would reduce the amount of cancer-causing pollution these companies spew into the air throughout the United States.

The proposed changes, if finalized, would have a significant impact on African Americans and Latinos who are much more likely to live near refineries and suffer double the cancer risk white Americans face because of their exposure to toxic air from refineries.

According to the EPA, the proposed changes would result in 1 million fewer people being at risk of cancer because of their exposure to toxic air from refineries.

The proposed updates include some needed improvements to prevent cancer and save lives such as:
-Fenceline monitoring, which would require refineries to measure toxic air pollution as it goes into the local community’s air.

“For the EPA to include fenceline monitoring and a fenceline air standard in today’s proposal is a very significant step and a win for communities,” said Lisa Garcia, Earthjustice’s VP of Health. “People who live near refineries—along with environmental justice advocates—have been demanding fenceline monitoring for years because they have a right to know what pollutants are being emitted at the fenceline.”

The EPA expects the proposed rule will lead to a reduction of 5,600 tons per year of toxic air pollutants.

Other improvements include:
-Improved monitoring requirements for flaring which is too often used routinely, involves the burning of excessive waste gas, creating pollution communities must breathe.
-Tighter control requirements on emissions from various parts of refineries.
- Removal of a loophole in the existing standards, so that refineries can no longer get away with violations that occur during startup, shutdown, and malfunction periods.

Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project represented a number of community and environmental groups in Louisiana, Texas and California, in a lawsuit after the EPA missed its deadline to review and update toxic air standards for oil refineries by more than a decade. EPA recognized the need to perform this overdue rulemaking, and entered into a consent decree setting the rulemaking schedule.

It remains to be seen whether the changes proposed by the EPA will be finalized because the refinery industry is pushing hard to weaken them, arguing that the changes, which would require updated technology, are too costly for the health benefits the proposed changes offer.

The EPA is planning to hold public hearings in Houston and Los Angeles in the upcoming months so that communities can respond publicly to the proposed changes.
Hilton Kelley, executive director of the Community In-Power and Development Association based in Port Arthur, Texas, who has been working for years to minimize pollution from refineries, said the EPA standards should be a signal to communities to continue the fight.

“EPA took a step forward in getting to this point with these proposed standards,” he said. “We’ve got to keep pushing so that we make sure EPA does its job to get strong rules done and big oil corporations aren’t able to force us two steps back.”

Kelley said one of every five households in Port Arthur, Texas, where he lives, has a child suffering from asthma. “The EPA has got to move forward with a strong new rule. And they must stop companies from spewing dangerous levels of pollution into our communities,” he said.

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