Activists, residents ask Environmental Protection Agency to reduce emissions at refineries

By EMILY SCHMALL, Associated Press Published: August 6, 2014
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— Environmental advocates and residents living near oil refineries asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday to force petroleum companies to adopt stricter emissions standards and publicly release emissions data to help reduce communities’ exposure to a cancer-causing chemical.

By midafternoon, about 60 people had addressed the federal agency during a hearing on the EPA’s proposal to compel refineries — for the first time — to monitor and report emissions of benzene to nearby communities.

“I really didn’t know the extent of the dangers of being exposed to all these fumes. Finding out what you’re really breathing, it’s scary,” said Galena Park City Commissioner Maricela Serna.

The new rule also would compel refiners to purchase and place monitors to track emissions of the carcinogen into those communities, upgrade storage tank and emission controls on coker units, where crude oil is pumped at the beginning of the refining process, and reduce flaring.

Residents travel for hearing

Residents from Texas, California, Louisiana and Michigan attended the hearing in suburban Houston. It was the second and final public hearing resulting from a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project on behalf of U.S. communities near oil refineries. The suit, filed against the EPA, argued that the federal agency was more than a decade late in reviewing and updating toxic air standards for refineries.

EPA officials estimate the rules could reduce toxic air emissions by as much as 5,600 tons a year, directly affecting the 5 million people in the U.S. who live within a 32-mile radius of oil refineries.