Community Groups File Suit Due to EPA’s Failure to Meet Clean Air Act Deadlines to Revise Rules to Require More Accurate Reporting of Pollution
HOUSTON, TX & WASHINGTON, D.C.///May 2, 2013///
The text of the lawsuit filing is available online at http://www.environmentalintegrity.org/news_reports/05_02_2013.php.
The federal Clean Air Act requires EPA to review and revise the formulas used to estimate dangerous volatile organic compounds at least once every three years. But EPA has failed to do so even after receiving a petition from the City of Houston in 2008 asking EPA to close loopholes that allow hundreds of thousands of tons of pollution to escape detection and reporting each year. The lawsuit is a follow-up action to the “notice of intent” letter filed by the groups in July 2012.
“Emissions that aren’t counted are ‘off the books’ as far as federal and state agencies are concerned,” said Whitney Ferrell, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, which is representing the local groups in court. “And that leaves communities downwind of oil, chemical and gas plants exposed to higher levels of butadiene, benzene, and other toxic pollutants that increase the risk of cancer and other diseases. Getting these emissions back on the radar can also help industry identify cost effective ways to recover and reuse gases that are now leaking into the air as pollution.”
Adrian Shelley, executive director, Air Alliance Houston said: "We must know what is in our air if we are going to clean it up and protect public health. We have filed this complaint as a last resort, and only because EPA has ignored repeated requests to address the problem. Seven years ago, the Agency’s own Inspector General called for overhaul of emission factors that EPA itself rated as ‘poor.’ Houston Mayor Bill White formally petitioned EPA nearly five years ago, asking the Agency to modernize the calculations that we know drastically undercount these toxic emissions. States, cities and neighborhoods trust EPA to tell the truth about the pollution from petrochemical plants; the Agency will lose that trust if it is unwilling to keep up with the science and get the data right.”
The lawsuit seeks EPA review and revision of the calculations used to measure emissions of volatile compounds from tanks, flares, and wastewater treatment systems, taking into account numerous studies over the last decade that document huge volumes of uncounted air pollution from these sources. Relatively simple actions could make a big difference – like requiring that gases sent to flares actually be hot enough to destroy the pollutants during the combustion process. A summary of several of these studies is available online at http://www.environmentalintegrity.org/news_reports/05_02_2013.php.
Anna Hrybyk, program manager, Louisiana Bucket Brigade said: "According to industry’s own reports, refinery accidents average 5 per week in Louisiana. Fines and enforcement actions strong enough to clean up and prevent these accidents are rare because the outdated emissions factors so severely underestimate actual pollution. Over 200,000 people living within two miles of a refinery in Louisiana bear the brunt of the toxic environment created by inaccurate pollution reporting and lax enforcement."
Juan Parras, executive director, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services said: “We live near hundreds of industrial facilities that release toxic and smog-causing pollutants into the air. Undercounting these volatile compounds is deadly serious for fenceline communities living in Houston’s East End to Galveston Bay that suffer from the cumulative impacts of refineries and chemical plants. EPA needs to protect public health and the environment, and there are no excuses to further delay long overdue action to revise inaccurate emission factors consistent with scientific studies.”
Hilton Kelley, executive director, Community In-Power and Development, said “For too long, the communities in Port Arthur, TX have been subjected to dangerous chemicals emitted from refineries, chemical plants, and incinerator facilities. Many of our kids suffer from asthma, bronchitis, and other air related chemical exposure illnesses. EPA should step up it's efforts to protect human health from big polluters—we depend on them for our safety.”
The lawsuit comes on the heels of EPA’s recent proposal to backpedal on a rule finalized in 2012 to control emissions of volatile compounds from oil and gas storage tanks. The original rule requires companies to install controls that will reduce toxic emissions by 95 percent from new or modified storage tanks by October 15, 2013. In response to an industry petition, EPA is now proposing to: (1) wholly exempt tanks constructed or modified in the last two years from the requirement to install controls and (2) push back compliance deadlines for all new tanks to April 15, 2014. Facilities are authorized to remove pollution controls when emissions fall below four tons per year, but the rule would allow use of outdated and inaccurate emission factors to support this claim. These changes, along with EPA’s identification of thousands of more tanks emitting high levels of volatile compounds, would allow the release of millions of tons of additional toxics, greenhouse gases, and other pollutants from storage tanks.
The text of EPA’s proposal is available online at http://www.epa.gov/airquality/oilandgas/actions.html.
Refineries and chemical plants emit many hazardous pollutants, including volatile compounds like benzene, butadiene, naphthalene, acrolein, and ethylene dibromide; polycyclic organic matter; polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; mercury; cadmium; lead; and arsenic, among others. There is substantial scientific data demonstrating that refineries can measure their pollution with much greater accuracy than many facilities currently do. In fact, several companies have agreed to do so as a result of recent enforcement actions. See http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/cases/civil/caa/bp-whiting.html and http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/cases/civil/caa/marathonrefining.html.
ABOUT THE GROUPS
The Environmental Integrity Project (http://www.environmentalintegrity.org) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established in March of 2002 by former EPA enforcement attorneys to advocate for effective enforcement of environmental laws. EIP has three goals: 1) to provide objective analyses of how the failure to enforce or implement environmental laws increases pollution and affects public health; 2) to hold federal and state agencies, as well as individual corporations, accountable for failing to enforce or comply with environmental laws; and 3) to help local communities obtain the protection of environmental laws.
Air Alliance Houston (http://www.airalliancehouston.org) wants clean air so our economy, quality of life, and children can thrive. Our mission is to reduce air pollution in the Houston region to protect public health and environmental integrity through research, education, and advocacy. We are the Houston region’s leading environmental health and air quality nonprofit.
Community In-Power and Development Associates (http://www.mycida.org) is a non-profit organization that advocates for its members environmental justice, social, and economic rights. CIDA works to help protect underserved communities from big polluters like refineries and chemical plants by monitoring toxic emissions, revitalize communities, and educate citizens on the importance of voting and taking part in decisions that impact their communities.
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade (http://www.labucketbrigade.org) is a 501(c)(3) environmental health and justice organization working with communities that neighbor the state's oil refineries and chemical plants. Our mission is to support communities' use of grassroots action to create informed, sustainable neighborhoods free from industrial pollution.
Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (http://www.tejasbarrios.org) is dedicated to providing community members with the tools necessary to create sustainable, environmentally healthy communities by educating individuals on health concerns and implications arising from environmental pollution, empowering individuals with an understanding of applicable environmental laws and regulations and promoting their enforcement, and offering community building skills and resources for effective community action and greater public participation.
MEDIA CONTACTS: Leslie Maloy, for Environmental Integrity Project, at (703) 276-3256 or email@example.com; Adrian Shelley, for Air Alliance Houston, at (713) 528-3779 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Anna Hrybyk, for Louisiana Bucket Brigade, at (504) 312-1737 or email@example.com; Hilton Kelley, for Community In-Power and Development Association, at (409) 498-1088 or firstname.lastname@example.org; and Juan Parras, for Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, at (281) 513-7799 or email@example.com
Preliminary results of Port Side Community Survey Released
(Houston, TX)—Hundreds of residents living near the Port of Houston attended a Town Hall meeting Thursday evening at Holland Middle School to learn about the changes coming to their communities with the expansion of the Port.
“For far too long, the voices of community members living with the health and safety impacts of the Port of Houston have been ignored in the decision making about the Port’s economic growth, routing of hazardous and heavy truck traffic, strategic positioning of pollution control devices, and disposal of hazardous wastes. The Healthy Port Communities Coalition was created in response to this void.” said Hillary Corgey, originally from the Houston area and representing Public Citizen at the meeting, “We seek to provide information and to give a voice to portside communities that have historically been left out of this decision making process as they organize to make their communities safer and healthier for all who live there.”
The Coalition is currently conducting surveys in portside communities to determine the full extent of port impacts on residents of these communities and to raise awareness about their causes. The preliminary results of this ongoing survey were discussed at the town hall. Some notable early results include:
Port side community residents concerned about pollution from industries and port operations along the ship channel.
61% concerned about ships and cargo equipment pollution.
- 67% concerned about train and rail yard pollution.
- 86% concerned about refinery and chemical plant pollution.
- 82% concerned about 18 wheeler/truck pollution.
- 89% concerned about local pollutions’ effects on their health and 54% of respondents do not have health insurance.
- Cancer rates in these communities are more than 8 times the Texas average.
- Children have twice the rate of asthma in these communities than other Texans.
The only good news if you can call it that while 54% of the respondents do not have health insurance, nearly 80% reported they have had a routine exam in the last two years. What we don’t know is if this is high because of higher rates of disease. Residents may have characterized more frequent trips to the doctor, the emergency room, or another clinic as “a routine” exam.
The survey also identified the need for job opportunities and job training.
- 42% of households have an unemployed resident.
- 81% said there is a need for job training.
- 69% said there is not sufficient work in their area.
During the town hall, Patricia Gonzales, a mother of three from Pasadena and member of the Texas Organizing Project, spoke up saying, “All of my children have asthma, and after moving to Pasadena, I too have asthma. We need to know what impact these changes will have on our health.”
“The Coalition is here to help portside community residents speak with a unified voice on issues that affect their health and well-being,” said Adrian Shelley, Executive Director of Coalition member Air Alliance Houston. “These communities have borne the burden of Houston’s intense industrial development.”
Also attending the Town Hall meeting to listen to and address residents’ concerns were Bob Allen, the Director of Harris County Pollution Control Services Department, Marcus Woodring, Managing Director of Health Safety Security and Environment at the Port of Houston, Jerry Peruchini, chief of staff of Houston City Councilman Ed Gonzales, Edna Campos with Councilmember Melissa Noriega’s office, Rhonda Sauter of the Mayor’s Citizens Assistance Office, State Representative Mary Ann Perez, Linda Jamail with State Representative Ana Hernandez-Luna’s office, Marisol Rodriguez from Senator Sylvia Garcia's office, and Myriam Saldivar from State Representative Armando Walle’s office.
“We recognize our constituents living near the Port of Houston have to contend with issues not common to the rest of Houston and want to thank these residents for taking the time to make them known to us. The survey will be helpful as we try to address the impacts of the port and its expansion on these communities,” said Texas State Senator Sylvia Garcia.
The attendees were divided into groups to begin outlining the concerns of port community residents.
“We want to know what’s going on around us and how it will affect our everyday lives,” concluded Gonzales. “This town hall meeting is an opportunity for us to begin that conversation.”
“One of the recommendations posed to the residents living near the ports was to ask for community representation on the Port of Houston Authority Commission,” said Debbie Allen, a resident of Pleasantville and member of the Pleasantville Environmental Coalition. “While my neighbors in the community are concerned about local hiring for port jobs, job training for port jobs, environmental protection and access to healthcare, I believe representation on the Port Commission would give our communities a seat at the table so that we can begin addressing these issues. One way this could be done is by putting this change into Representative Dennis Bonnen’s Port of Houston Authority Sunset Bill - HB 1642.”
The Healthy Port Communities Coalition is an open-ended collaboration that names among its members: Air Alliance Houston, Pleasantville Environmental Coalition, Public Citizen, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services and the Texas Organizing Project.
Last Thursday, April 25, Air Alliance Houston hosted our 6th annual awards show and art auction at Skyline Art Services in partnership with Green Bank. Guests enjoyed a live performance by the Conrad O' Johnson Children's Orchestra and dined on canapes from Sorrel Bistro, Canopy and Irma's. Our master of ceremonies, Karyn Dean of Prime Living Magazine, kicked off the evening with a presentation of Awards to 28 young artists from around the Houston region. Artists received a framed reproduction of their artwork donated by Skyline Art Services, a commemorative certificate from Senator Ellis' office and a Visa Gift Card prize given by Green Bank.
The 2013 Overall Winner was Lidzy D. Juarez, 6th grade, Patrick Henry Middle School, Teacher: Kathleen Rios, Houston Independent School District. Lidzy received a framed reproduction of her artwork, a commemorative certificate from Senator Ellis' office and $500.00 Visa Gift Card. An image of her amazing artwork has been included in this newsletter.
The People's Choice Award Winner was Eduardo Aponte, Parish School, Teacher: Jaime Heinrich, Spring Branch Independent School District
This year, we had 393 individual votes for the People’s Choice category. Voting was collected online and in person at the Launch Party for the Earth Day Art Contest Art Tour held at One Green Street and at Waste Management’s Earth Day Houston, presented by Air Alliance Houston. The winning entry received an additional $250.00 in Visa Gift Cards donated by Green Bank in addition to the prizes he received for being 1st Place in the 3rd Grade Category.
Air Alliance Houston is proud to have developed and organized such a fantastic and worthwhile program that encourages students from all over the Houston region to consider their environment, Mother Earth and surroundings and create an original piece of art with their perceptions relevant to Earth Day. We are pleased that this program has been developed not only as a fundraiser for our mission and programming, but also as a way to support the art education at our local schools. 50 percent of all art sales are donated directly back the winning artist’s schools.
Our Earth Day Art Contest continues to grow, having had participation from 46 different schools in the Houston area in 2013. Including the pre-sale, we raised a total of $5,012.50. 50 percent of that will be donated to local school art programs.
The Earth Day Art Contest is developed by Air Alliance Houston in conjunction with their annual Earth Day Houston festival and is presented by Skyline Art Services and Green Bank. The art contest is made possible through generous support by Enbridge Energy, Brookfield Office Properties, Garcia, Hamilton & Associates, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, The Hershey Foundation, and The Felvis Foundation. Our prizes this evening have been generously donated by Green Bank, Texas Art Supply and Glassell Junior School.
For more information about how to enter in 2014 and to view the winning artwork from 2013, please visit www.earthdayartcontest.org.
Proposed new national vehicle emissions and fuel standards have just been announced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), designed to significantly reduce harmful air pollution, prevent thousands of premature deaths and respiratory illnesses, while also enabling efficiency improvements in the vehicles we drive. These standards, known as Tier 3, will update and strengthen the Tier 2 vehicle and fuel standards adopted in 2000. Starting in 2017, the new standards will work in harmony with new clean car standards to help improve fleet-wide fuel efficiency in new cars, and with California’s clean cars and fuels program to create a harmonized nationwide vehicle emissions program that enables automakers to sell the same vehicles in all 50 states.
The proposed Tier 3 standards have received enthusiastic support from health and environmental advocates, state health commissioners, automakers and the emissions control industry. Automakers, such as the Association of Global Automakers, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Emissions Control Technology Association and the United Auto Workers, support the new standards because they provide greater regulatory certainty since a national standard means the auto industry can build a car that can be sold anywhere in the country.
Despite this broad-based support, not surprisingly, the oil and gas industry and its political allies are opposed. The industry has immediately begun their usual drum-beat of doom and gloom economic predictions. The American Petroleum Institute (API), the industry’s lobbyist in Washington, claims that lowering the sulfur in gasoline would add 6 to 9 cents per gallon (“cpg”) to refiners’ manufacturing costs, and full implementation of the “tsunami of regulations” the industry faces could add as much as 65 cents to the cost of producing a gallon of fuel in the future. The main trade group for the refiners, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, claiming the standards are “completely without merit and too burdensome for the industry,” warns of refinery closures and gas price hikes. The industry says it sees “nothing but rising costs ahead because of proposed federal regulations” and that any increased costs will likely be passed on to consumers at the pump. Important here though, the EPA says that only 16 of the 111 refineries in the U. S. would need to invest in major equipment to meet the new standards. Of the remaining 95 refineries, 29 already meet the standards because they sell cleaner fuel in California or elsewhere in the world, and 66 would need to make only minor modifications.
The API’s claims that the Tier 3 sulfur reduction requirement will increase the marginal cost of refining by 6 to 9 cpg implies that retail gas prices will rise by the same amount. However, if gas prices increase by 6 to 9 cpg, and if the average cost of refining increases by 1.9 cpg, as claimed by API, then the refining industry would actually make a profit from Tier 3. Given the API’s opposition to Tier 3, it appears that it doesn’t believe that the marginal compliance costs can be passed on to consumers and/or it doesn’t believe that these marginal costs of compliance are substantially above the average cost of compliance. Because refiners would not oppose any regulation that increased their profits, it reasonably follows that their cost estimates are likely exaggerated, or simply wrong.
It is important to note that when the EPA adopted the Tier 2 standards in 2000, it estimated that the average cost of refining gasoline would increase by about 2 cpg. It now estimates that the proposed Tier 3 standards will increase the average cost of refining gasoline by 1 cpg or less once the standards are fully in place. Regression analyses on the Tier 2 regulations show they had no material impact on the retail price of gasoline and associated refining cost increases and were not passed on to consumers in the form of higher retail gasoline prices. Given these facts with Tier 2, it is highly unlikely the Tier 3 regulations will have any impact on the retail price of gasoline either and that the costs -- estimated to be half the Tier 2 costs -- will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher retail gasoline prices.
While increases in retail gasoline prices are a major economic concern, gasoline price increases have nothing to do with the planned Tier 3 fuel standards and vehicle emissions reductions. The retail price of gasoline is determined by many factors, with the global price of crude oil being by far the most important, accounting for 67% of the price. Refiners’ margins are also important, but account for only 16% of the retail price of gasoline. In fact, recent increases in global crude oil prices accounted for the entire recent increase in U.S. retail gasoline prices.
As previously stated, the Tier 3 standards have broad support, given the approximate $7 in health benefits estimated to be realized for every $1 spent to meet their requirements. Everyone except the oil and gas industry believes that the “minimal costs will be largely outweighed by the savings that come from the huge health benefits we get from cleaner air.”
The facts show it highly unlikely that the Tier 3’s minimal 1 cpg costs will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher retail gasoline prices. Of course, since the industry is notorious for making its predictions of higher gasoline prices self-fulfilling prophesies, the real facts about the new standards may not save consumers from higher gasoline prices at the pump.