Received yesterday from Air Alliance Houston, one of the outstanding and effective organizations involved in the Moving Forward Network.
Texas Environmental Protection Issues
The Legislature, State’s Elected Leadership and Environmental Regulators
Larry Soward, President, Air Alliance Houston
EPA Rule will Include Fenceline Monitoring
Limiting Toxic Air Emissions from Refineries
Adrian Shelley, Executive Director, Air Alliance Houston
By now you have probably heard that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a new rule last week regarding toxic air emissions from oil and gas refineries. Officially known as the “Proposed Petroleum Refinery Sector Risk and Technology Review and New Source Performance Standards,” those of us who have been working for years toward this rule know it simply as the “Refinery rule” or “Refinery toxics rule.”
This rule is the culmination of years of work by many people and organizations. EPA is more than a decade overdue in reviewing this rule. The lawsuit by Air Alliance Houston and others was filed in 2012. This proposal is only the next step in this lengthy process. EPA will take public comments on the proposal for sixty days. The agency will also hold two hearings on the rule: one in Los Angeles and one in Houston sometime in the next few months. After getting public feedback, EPA will spend several more months responding to comments and finalizing the rule. Then the states will have to develop plans to implement the rule. Air Alliance Houston has been heavily involved in the process, and we will continue to be.
So: what’s in the refinery rule? First, additional pollution control requirements. These requirements will apply to some of the most problematic units at refineries: storage tanks, flares, and delayed cokers. Second, an elimination of the exemption for emissions that occur during startup, shutdown, and maintenance. As anyone familiar with the industry knows, these exemptions have been widely abused. People breathe all of the time, and there is no reason to exempt some air emissions from regulation. Third, the rule requires fenceline monitoring and establishes a fenceline standard for benzene, a carcinogen that serves as a marker for toxic emissions from refineries.
All told, we are very pleased with this rule. The provision for fenceline monitoring in particular is a huge step forward. This is the first time that EPA has included fenceline monitoring in a rule. It is true that the type of monitoring proposed is not necessarily what we would like. The monitors are passive, meaning that they will have to be collected and analyzed periodically, with their data being made public well after the fact. We would have preferred active, real-time monitoring, but on balance we are very pleased that fenceline monitoring will now be required. As I have said before, if we don’t know what our communities-and our children-are being exposed to, we can’t protect their health. This rule is a great step toward the health protection that the children of Houston need.
Now or Never
It is time to act on Environmental Justice issues in Houston
Brian Butler, Community Outreach Coordinator, Air Alliance Houston
This past weekend, environmental activists and Houston residents gathered at Texas Southern University (TSU) for a two day Environmental Justice Encuentro. The event was graciously sponsored by The Houston Peace & Justice Center, Air Alliance Houston, The University of Texas Medical Branch’s Sealy Center for Environmental Health & Medicine, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, TSU, and the Citizens Environmental Coalition. The goals were to foster dialog, communication and education between environmental groups and residents of areas most affected by severe environmental health risks; enlighten Houstonians with an understanding that environmental injustices suffered by “fence-line” communities affect all Houstonians; and empower Houston residents to work for environmental quality.
We were honored to have as our keynote speaker Dr. Robert Bullard, Environmental Justice pioneer and Dean of TSU’s Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs. In addition to Dr. Bullard, Jim Blackburn, Al Armendariz, Winfred Hamilton, Larry Soward, and several others presented on topics ranging from strategies for building healthy and resilient communities in an era of climate change to the role of Texas in environmental justice today and in the future.
By the end of the second day it was abundantly clear that now is the time to solve Texas’s environmental challenges. The damages, risks, and stakes are too great to wait any longer. Texas emits twice as much pollution as any other state. Solving these challenges here will make solving them in the other forty-nine states that much easier.