A coalition of community organizations has
filed a citizen lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency seeking
stricter limits on air pollution from oil refineries.
Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity
Project filed the complaint
in federal district court last week on behalf of four Gulf Coast groups -- the
Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, Air
Alliance Houston and the Community In-Power Development Association of Port
Arthur, Texas -- as well as three California groups, Del Amo Action Committee,
Coalition for a Safe Environment and California Communities Against Toxics.
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is supposed
to reconsider regulatory standards to reduce human health risks at least every
eight years. The lawsuit asserts that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has not
fulfilled those responsibilities for petroleum refineries and asks the court to
set an "expeditious" deadline for new rules.
"Communities who live near refineries
have waited years for protection," said Earthjustice attorney Emma Cheuse.
"It is not fair for any of our children to automatically start life with a
higher risk of cancer and other diseases, just because of where they are born
and grow up. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to protect children's health
now, without delay."
There are 148 refineries located in 32 U.S.
states and territories. Each year they release a total of about 40 million
pounds of hazardous air pollutants including cancer-causing benzene, cyanide
and formaldehyde. They also contribute to lung-damaging ozone pollution.
Communities that are low-income, African-American and Latino bear a disproportionate
burden of pollution from oil refineries.
Recent studies at Marathon, Shell and BP
facilities have found that actual emissions from refineries are 10 to 100 times
higher than what industry reports to federal and state regulators, but the
EPA's current rules are based on the inaccurate estimates. In addition, the EPA
regulations now on the books don't take into account emissions reductions
achievable through the latest technology.
Texas is the state with the greatest number
of oil refineries at 27; they reported releasing over 10 million pounds of
toxic pollution to the air in 2010. California has the second-highest number of
refineries at 21, which reported releasing over 2.8 million pounds of air
pollution that year. While Louisiana has the third-highest number of refineries
at 17, they ranked second nationally in terms of reported air emissions, at
over 6.3 million pounds.
Rounding out the top 10 states in terms of
pounds of air emissions reported from refineries in 2010 are Montana (3.2
million), Indiana (2.9 million), Mississippi (2.5 million), Illinois (2.1
million), Virgin Islands (2 million), Pennsylvania (1.8 million) and Washington
The single refinery that reported releasing
the greatest quantity of hazardous air pollutants in 2010 was BP Products
Whiting Refinery in Whiting, Ind. at over 2.9 million pounds. It was followed
by Chevron Texaco Products Co. in Pascagoula, Miss. at over 2.5 million pounds,
and BP's refinery in Texas City, Texas at over 2.2 million pounds. The following
chart lists the dozen U.S. refineries with the greatest reported air emissions
As part of its Petroleum
Refinery Initiative launched in 2000, EPA has negotiated settlements with
over 107 refineries requiring them to reduce emissions of ozone-forming
nitrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide as well as some toxic pollutants including
benzene. The citizens' lawsuit seeks to force even greater pollution
"There are eight refineries in the
Houston Ship Channel that are dumping toxic air pollution into the air that we
breathe daily," said Juan Parras of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy
Services. "The clean-up cost for facilities is a drop in the bucket
compared to the health impacts we are currently facing. It is time for the EPA
to do its job and set strong rules to protect our basic right to breathe clean
The groups involved in the lawsuit sent the
EPA a notice of intent to sue in July. Early last month, the agency submitted
proposed refinery emissions regulations to the White House Office of Management
and Budget for review.
For a copy of the complaint and other
materials related to the lawsuit, click here.
(Image above shows Erma Lee Smith, among
the residents of Port Arthur, Texas who blame respiratory and other health
problems on pollution from refineries. It is a still from a Natural
Resources Defense Council video.)