US EPA plan to withdraw refinery emissions law disappoints NPRA

21 October 2009 22:54  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--The National Petrochemical and Refiners Association (NPRA) said on Wednesday it was disappointed in the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent proposal to withdraw part of the Bush-era refinery-emissions regulations.

The proposal came in response to several groups’ claims that the data used to shape the law might not accurately depict the emissions risk posed by petroleum refineries.

“We are disappointed that the administration has chosen to withdraw the rule, because it will create more uncertainty for refiners over the next several years as the process essentially begins all over again,” said NPRA spokesman Bill Holbrook.

“We’d anticipate that analysis beyond what has already been done would simply confirm what was previously determined with regard to low risk from refineries,” he added.

NPRA director of environmental affairs David Friedman told Greenwire that the EPA’s review of the data would likely take two to three years.

The Obama administration EPA said last week that the re-evaluation was deemed necessary, partly due to a letter from the city of Houston, which filed a petition in July 2008 identifying flaws in the data used to conduct the risk assessment.

Houston is the hub of the US petrochemicals industry.

“We are currently taking action (and plan to take additional action) to gather better emissions information from the refining industry,” said EPA administrator Lisa Jackson in a court filing.

“Upon further review, EPA has determined that the residual risk and technology reviews may not accurately characterise the risk posed by this source category,” she added.

The current regulations, issued by former EPA administrator Stephen Johnson only days before the Bush administration left office, left in effect emission standards created in 1995 while requiring no additional controls or reduction measures.

But according to the non-profit organisation Environmental Integrity Project, new remote-sensing technologies that directly measure air emissions show that refinery releases of toxic air pollutants can be as much as 100 times higher than EPA predictions.

In addition, the city of Houston noted that its remote-sensing technologies at a number of facilities found emissions of toxics such as benzene drastically undercounted in prior data.

“EPA’s commitment to more accurately assess risks is a significant victory for refinery communities,” Environmental Integrity Project director Eric Schaeffer said. “EPA’s actions are the first step in the development of stricter, risk-based standards that protect public health and the environment.”

The US Clean Air Act requires the EPA to tighten pollution standards on industries that release emissions in the event it is deemed necessary to protect public health or if new technology allows for improved pollution control systems.

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By: Ben DuBose
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