Unfathomable: EPA Decides Oil Refinery Air Pollution is Clean Enough to Ignore

New Agency Finding Flouts Common Sense, Science and the Law

WASHINGTON (August 23, 2007) – Flouting common sense as well as the law, the Environmental Protection Agency today announced a proposed rule that concludes that tens of thousands of tons of toxic air emissions from U.S. oil refineries are not risky enough to warrant any additional safeguards for the breathing public. If it stands, the decision will impose a significant cancer risk on nearly half a million Americans, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
“The EPA is officially proposing to ignore acknowledged risk levels that are 70 times higher than allowed by law,” said John Walke, a senior attorney and the Clean Air Program director at NRDC. “Nearly one in three Americans lives within 30 miles of a refinery. This ruling subjects the public to increased cancer risks and other chronic health hazards. Oil companies have the technology and the resources to fix this problem, but EPA wants to let them off the hook.”
EPA’s decision today addresses the Clean Air Act obligation to respond to any public health risks remaining from oil refineries’ toxic air pollution, following the agency’s adoption of technology control standards in 1995. Congress recognized that after pollution control technologies are applied, pollution coming from these facilities might still pose unacceptable health risks to the public. Thus, in 1990, Congress instructed EPA to examine the remaining or “residual” risk from all toxic pollution sources. The agency was supposed to determine whether the first-generation technology standards reduced lifetime cancer risks to the public from toxic pollution to less than 1-in-1-million. If cancer risk exceeds 1-in-1 million, EPA must require better control measures to protect the public by reducing risks to below 1-in-1 million. In today’s announcement, however, EPA asserts that the appropriate threshold for action is not 1-in-1-million, but 100-in-1 million. And because the agency finds toxic emissions from oil refineries to pose cancer risks of 70-in-1 million, EPA indicates its preferred approach is to do nothing about these cancer risks and to require no additional pollution controls at oil refineries.