Public Calls for Health Protections at Refinery Hearing in Texas, Industry Defends Status Quo

Motiva refinery in Port Arthur, TX  (Source: FuelFix)

Motiva refinery in Port Arthur, TX
(Source: FuelFix)

On Tuesday, I spoke at a well-attended public hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) vital proposal to reduce toxic emissions at oil refineries. At the hearing, I witnessed industry representatives and backers argue that refineries have already done enough to protect local citizens and that the public knows all there is to know about hazardous refinery pollution. Clean air advocates, including labor unions, public officials, residents, and health practitioners, took the stand and called on EPA to improve the status quo.

The status quo, unfortunately, is pollution loopholes for certain refinery processes, outdated pollution control technologies, and an inadequate health impact assessment. This refinery air toxics proposal, currently open for public comment, will help protect public health in some of the nation’s most toxically overburdened communities. That’s why direct federal attention to oil refineries is needed in states with questionable environmental records like Texas and Louisiana.

Oil refinery backers, however, told EPA on Tuesday that the status quo is working great for them. They touted air quality gains in Houston and elsewhere that, from their perspective, are sufficient. But that's like saying everybody should be content when grades improve from an “F” to a “C”. Don’t we deserve an “A” when it comes to air quality?

Specifically, industry argued that the existing air monitoring system and data collection is adequate. They called out and rejected a part of the proposal that requires fenceline monitoring for cancer-causing benzene. I can tell you, as a researcher, that there is never too much high quality data available for studies. The bottom line is that improved monitoring of air pollutants will help researchers, regulators, and residents better understand the true risk associated with toxic refinery pollution.

The refinery rule proposal is perhaps most impactful in addressing long-standing environmental justice burdens. As stated in my testimony, large refineries are often located in or near disadvantaged communities that must face multiple sources of carcinogens, neurotoxins, and hazardous metals. According to EPA, this proposal will reduce 5,600 tons of toxic air pollution each year. Cities like Galena Park, the location of the hearing and close to several refineries, stand to benefit significantly from these emissions reductions.

Texas residents and communities across the nation deserve protection from refinery pollution, and EPA has an opportunity right now to seize the moment and push forward strong health-protective standards that will improve the status quo. You can be a part of this fight too. Take action right now and tell EPA that you stand with EDF and allies in supporting this vital rule.

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