Meeting with the EPA on the Refinery Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed sweeping changes to regulations at oil refineries in the new Refinery Rule. Those changes include:

  • Fenceline Monitoring – Community fenceline air monitoring, and a fenceline benzene standard for the first time, would require refineries to measure toxic air pollution at the property line as it goes into the local community’s air. Monitoring data will be made publicly available for communities to use.
  • Flaring – New monitoring and combustion efficiency requirements for flaring (or the burning of waste gas) which is, too often, used routinely and which creates harmful new pollution.
  • Closing of Loopholes – Removal of the unlawful loopholes in the existing standards, so that refineries can no longer get away scott-free with violations during startups, shutdowns, and malfunctions.
  • Tighter control of emissions from all parts of refineries – EPA must finalize limits for delayed coker units and storage tanks that are as strong as possible. EPA also must require stronger protection from wastewater and all other emission points, rather than rejecting protections based on a distorted and inappropriate consideration of the cost-per-ton of reductions.

Last week I had the honor of accompanying a community member from Pasadena, Texas to a round-table meeting with Janet McCabe, Acting Assisting Administrator of the Office of Air and Radiation; Matthew Tejada, Director of EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice; Mustafa Santiago Ali, Acting Senior Advisor to the Administrator for Environmental Justice; and other members of the EPA. The meeting was called by Emma Cheuse, Staff Attorney with Earthjustice; Stephanie Maddin, Earthjustice Legislative Counsel; and Sparsh Khandeshi, Staff Attorney for Environmental Integrity Project. The meeting was an opportunity for community members from different areas of the country to bring their personal stories to the EPA.

Pat Gonzales with Janet McCabe 2 - 08-20-15 courtesy of Khandeshi (1)

Pat Gonzales is no stranger to meetings such as these. She has been a very strong advocate for her community on different issues such as health and education, but is mostly known for her continued fight for better air quality for her community.  Pat was very excited about telling personal stories to help convince the EPA that their rule should include fenceline monitoring, stricter regulations on startup and shut down, and flaring.  Her personal stories, along with those of the other community advocates at the table, were very real and very moving.

One does not know the real dangers and challenges of living next to industry unless you deal with it on a daily basis. Many say, “just move.” Well, it is not that easy.  Who would they sell their house to? Industry? Industry does not offer enough to even purchase another home.  Many are stuck and end up having to deal the best they can. Many also feel no matter how hard they fight, their voices are never heard and nothing will change.

It is our hope that all provisions are implemented into the final rule which will reduce cancer risk and chronic health effects. We very much appreciative being able to meet and share the stories with the EPA, feel that they were well received, and will be taken into consideration when making final revisions to this rule before the September 30 signature date.