Report: EPA-funded group misleads public, government agencies

An EPA-funded environmental group has been disseminating misleading data about refineries to make them appear to be more dangerous than they actually are in order to invite federal intervention, according to a report to be released early this week.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been bankrolling a project by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a state-based environmental group, called the Refinery Efficiency Initiative which has been presenting misleading information to the media and to regulators, according to a report by the Pelican Institute, a Louisiana-based think tank.

“[The Louisiana Bucket Brigade] refinery transparency initiative bankrolled with taxpayer money has flooded the public with murky, inaccurate data, thereby defeating the original goal,” according to the report.

This EPA region has been caught up in controversy before as former Director Al Armendariz compared his approach to enforcing regulations on hydraulic fracking to that of Roman crucifixions in a 2010 video, saying “they’d find the first five guys they saw and they’d crucify them.” He resigned and was later hired by the Sierra Club, a current funder of LABB.

LABB’s Refinery Efficiency Initiative aims to educate the public by gathering data on unplanned plant emissions, using the refinery industry’s own data, according to the report. The program’s stated goal is to “collaborate with refinery communities and gain a comprehensive understanding of unauthorized discharges to the air and water from Louisiana refineries.”

“Alas, the LABB’s data isn’t close to being accurate — the research it has provided to the press, the public and the EPA makes the refineries appear to be operating in a dangerous and cavalier manner,” the report continues.

The report claims the EPA knows that LABB is presenting misleading data to the public but has done nothing to stop the behavior.

According to the report, LABB’s refinery initiative gives the group the illusion of being a partner in the regulatory process. It allows the group to falsely portray itself as an authority on refinery operations to the public and allows the group to to manipulate data to further its own agenda with the public and the regulatory agencies like OSHA and the EPA.

Former Peace Corps volunteer Anne Rolfes founded LABB in 2000 to train citizens to collect air samples “using a low-cost, EPA-approved plastic bucket,” according to their 2001 IRS tax return, targeting people living on the perimeter of Louisiana refineries.

The group lists many funding sources, including the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, the Sierra Club and the EPA. And over the years LABB has increasingly become funded through taxpayer dollars.

LABB has increasingly begun to tailor its activities to match the EPA’s Environmental Justice Program, a source of grants in the past and likely the future, according to the report.

“Environmental justice grants support efforts to raise awareness about local health and environmental concerns,” said Lisa Garcia, the EPA’s senior adviser to the administrator for environmental justice, in a statement. “By supporting local projects in under-served communities, communities are able to develop plans and partnerships that will continue to improve their local environment and better protect human health into the future.”

LABB appears to have been the largest recipient of environmental justice grants in the state. In total, the EPA’s database says it has given nine grants to LABB totaling $449,000 — though these are likely double-counted according to the report.

The Pelican Institute estimates that the group has most likely gotten $214,500 from the EPA in grants and awards.

In 2009, the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation gave LABB $25,000 to launch its Refinery Efficiency Initiative around this time as well, according to the report. Though no clear date is given, it is somewhere between between 2007 and 2009. However, one thing is clear, that it’s completely bankrolled by the EPA.

The group has received taxpayer grants to the tune of $84,500 to run the refinery initiative which the EPA says will “review the [state] incident reports that detail [refinery] discharges from 2005-08. They will educate neighbors through information sessions with the communities.”