Last Call for Comments on EPA’s Refinery Rule

After being extended, the public comment period for the EPA’s new refinery rule closed on October 28, 2014. However, the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), a federal advisory committee to EPA, is currently finalizing its advice and recommendations on this incredibly important rule.

I sincerely hope the council considers some core community concerns while completing its comments. One cannot understate the importance of the “P,” in EPA, that is, Protection. For fenceline communities all over this country the EPA’s role in ensuring environmental justice (and environmental equality) is literally the difference between life and death. This is why new rules to reduce refinery pollution and strengthening current standards are vital to the seven million Americans living in fenceline communities.

Right now, at this very moment, worker, community, and chemical safety is at a critical moment. Refinery unions are demanding safer work conditions; communities are advocating for their right to breath clean air; and trains (and ships) carrying tons of explosive chemicals move in and out of densely populated cities.

Unfortunately, in the state of Texas, it appears the state environmental agency views these issues as secondary to industry profit margins. For many states like Texas, the EPA providing guidance or recommending optional or voluntary programs does little to ensure the protection of public health. In fact, there’s a common saying among Texas fenceline residents that if the EPA doesn’t protect us, no one will.

In terms of the refinery rule itself, it is incredibly important that refinery emission limits include periods of startup, shutdown, and malfunctions, as these emissions are not exempt from entering the lungs of the surrounding community. Also, while I appreciate the EPA’s challenge of developing a fenceline monitoring rule, it must be reiterated that real-time fenceline monitoring is possible, reliable, valid, and cost-effective. While there is certainly value in passive benzene monitoring, it does not provide fenceline communities with the opportunity to limit their exposure during unexpected emission events.

Lastly, Air Alliance Houston, the Environmental Integrity Project, and the Environmental Defense Fund are currently testing the passive benzene monitoring proposed within the new rule. I expect that in addition to myself, the NEJAC, EPA, environmentalist community, and fenceline residents anticipate the findings of that evaluation.