Environmental Protection

The settlement of a lawsuit filed against EPA by community groups in Texas and Louisiana requires EPA to take action by the end of 2014 to review outdated formulas and require more accurate reporting of toxic emissions from U.S. refineries and chemical plants.

EPA to Review Formulas for Estimating Emissions at Refineries and Chemical Plants

The settlement of a lawsuit filed against EPA by community groups in Texas and Louisiana requires EPA to take action by the end of 2014 to review outdated formulas and require more accurate reporting of toxic emissions from U.S. refineries and chemical plants.

The lawsuit called for EPA to review the methodologies used to measure emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from liquid storage tanks, industrial flares, and wastewater treatment systems. The federal Clean Air Act requires EPA to review, and if necessary revise, these “emission factors” at least once every three years. Despite this requirement, EPA has not reviewed some of these factors in over 20 years.

The settlement was reached between EPA and the Washington, D.C. based Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), on behalf of its clients, Air Alliance Houston, Community In-Power and Development Association (CIDA), Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS). 

U.S. refineries reported releasing 37,895 tons of volatile compounds from flares, tanks, and wastewater treatment plants in 2010 alone. However, recent EPA studies have measured actual emissions of volatile and toxic compounds from U.S. refineries at levels 10 to 100 times higher than estimates based on emission factors. EPA’s failure to revise these factors has resulted in significant underestimation of reported emissions from refineries and petrochemical plants, allowing hundreds of thousands of tons of pollutants to go unreported each year and posing significant health risks by potentially exposing nearby communities to higher levels of pollution than the law allows.

Adrian Shelley, executive director, Air Alliance Houston said: “To think that some sources may be emitting one hundred times the pollution they report is frightening,” said Adrian Shelley, executive director, Air Alliance Houston. “How can we hope to protect our health if we don't know what's out there? Let's get the number right, then we'll work on reducing them.”

The settlement was reached through a consent decree that was lodged with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on February 11, 2014. 

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