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February 26, 2014

EPA to review plant-emissions formulas by end of 2014 under lawsuit settlement

Scott Jenkins

Community groups in Texas and Louisiana and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have settled a lawsuit filed in May 2013 to compel EPA to review outdated and inaccurate formulas that are used to report the levels of toxic emissions from refineries and chemical plants. The settlement was reached between EPA and the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), on behalf of its clients, Air Alliance Houston, Community In-Power and Development Association (CIDA), Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS).  

The lawsuit called for EPA to review the methodologies used to measure emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from liquid storage tanks, industrial flares, and wastewater treatment systems. The federal Clean Air Act requires EPA to review, and if necessary revise, these “emission factors” at least once every three years. Despite this requirement, EPA has not reviewed some of these factors in over 20 years.

U.S. refineries reported releasing 37,895 tons of volatile compounds from flares, tanks, and wastewater treatment plants in 2010 alone. However, recent EPA studies have measured actual emissions of volatile and toxic compounds from US refineries at levels 10 to 100 times higher than estimates based on emission factors. EPA’s failure to revise these factors has resulted in significant underestimation of reported emissions from US refineries and petrochemical plants, allowing hundreds of thousands of tons of pollutants to go unreported each year and posing significant health risks by potentially exposing nearby communities to higher levels of pollution than the law allows.

The settlement announced today was reached through a consent decree that was lodged with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on February 11, 2014. Notice of the proposed consent decree was published in the Federal Register on February 25, 2014 and is available online at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2014-02-25/pdf/2014-04112.pdf. The proposed consent decree requires the following:
  • No later than August 19, 2014, EPA must review and either propose revisions to the emission factors for flares, tanks and wastewater treatment systems under Section 130 of the Clean Air Act, or propose a determination that revision of these emission factors is not necessary.
  • No later than December 19, 2014, EPA must issue final revisions to the emission factors for flares, tanks, and wastewater treatment systems under Section 130 of the Clean Air Act, or issue a final determination that revision of these emission factors is not necessary.
  • EPA will publish each proposed and final revision or determination (or combination thereof) on the dates indicated above to its AP-42 website located at http://www.epa.gov/ttn/chief/ap42/.

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