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Texas hearing to address oil refinery rules

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 4, 2014 at 7:21 pm •  Published: August 4, 2014

HOUSTON (AP) — In the living room of a tidy, one-story home a few yards from Valero Energy Corp.'s massive oil refinery in the Houston neighborhood of Manchester, Areli Cuellar explained Monday why she no longer allows her children, 4 and 5, to play in the front yard.

The refinery's emissions "chip the paint off our cars. If they can do that, what are they doing to us?" Cuellar, 30, said.

Many Manchester residents like Cuellar — and others along the 54-mile-long stretch of chemical plants and refineries between Houston and the Galveston coast — fear the refineries are dangerous to their health. The area has the highest level of ozone in Texas. But others say they appreciate the money the expansive, city-like plants have injected into their communities.

That complicated relationship will likely come to the fore Tuesday, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will host a public forum in nearby Galena Park on proposed rules that would require stricter emission controls and monitoring standards.

Dozens of people are expected to testify about the health effects of living in such close proximity to the refineries, while industry representatives will repeat their claim that the new rules are financially burdensome and superfluous. The American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas lobbying group, has called the intended environmental benefits of the rules "questionable."

The EPA proposal would require refiners to place monitors on the fences of communities like Manchester to track emissions of the carcinogen benzene, upgrade storage tank and coke unit emission controls and regulate flaring.

EPA officials estimate such actions 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.

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