EPA Cracks Down On Oil Refineries… Without Offering Any Public Health Benefits

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The Environmental Protection Agency is cracking down on hazardous air pollutant emissions from petroleum refineries in order to protect public health. The only problem is, the EPA does not quantify any of the benefits to public health from this quarter-billion dollar regulation.

Refiners will now have to install additional emissions-control equipment for “storage tanks, flares and coking units,” which the EPA says will cost about $40 million per year. The agency is also requiring refineries to monitor air concentrations at the fence lines of facilities to “ensure proposed standards are being met and that neighboring communities are not being exposed to unintended emissions.”

The EPA says that toxic air emissions would be reduced by 5,600 tons per year and volatile organic compounds would be cut by 52,000 tons per year. The agency adds that “these cost-effective steps will have no noticeable impact on the cost of petroleum products at the approximately 150 petroleum refineries around the country.”

But what are the benefits? It’s hard to say because the EPA opted not to even quantify them for this rule.

“These avoided emissions will result in improvements in air quality and reduced negative health effects associated with exposure to air pollution of these emissions; however, we have not quantified or monetized the benefits of reducing these emissions for this rulemaking,” reads the EPA’s proposed refinery rule.

The refining industry will now have to pay about $240 million to reduce 58,600 tons of toxic air emissions and volatile organic compounds — a cost of about $4,100 per ton of pollutants. All of this, with no quantifiable health benefits.

“With this proposal, EPA adds to the list of new regulations impacting refineries that come with enormous costs but questionable environmental benefits,” said Howard Feldman, director of regulatory and scientific affairs at the American Petroleum Institute.

“This rule is intended to evaluate what risk, if any, is posed to the public from refinery emissions,” Feldman said. “But EPA has already concluded the risks associated with refinery emissions are low and the public is protected with an ample margin of safety.”

EPA data shows that emissions from volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have fallen 57 percent since 1980 and the release of toxic air pollutants (TAPs) has decreased 19 percent since 2003. In 2012, the U.S. emitted 13 million tons of VOCs and released 762.3 million pounds of TAPs in to the air.

Refiners argue that the EPA is mandating costly upgrades to facilities despite the lack of evidence that they pose an unacceptable risk to nearby communities. Industry analysis showed that risk levels have not increased since 2009 — when the EPA finalized its first refinery emissions rules.

“The risk concerns of this rule do not justify additional controls that EPA is proposing,” said Charles Drevna, president of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers. “The rule requires some unprecedented changes such as fence line monitors that are not justified by the risk findings.”

“This proposal will help us accomplish our goal of making a visible difference in the health and the environment of communities across the country,” said EPA administrator Gina McCarthy. “The common-sense steps we are proposing will protect the health of families who live near refineries and will provide them with important information about the quality of the air they breathe.”

“EPA’s one-size-fits-all approach to this monitoring will require every facility in the United States, regardless of risk, to install monitoring equipment throughout the facility,” Drevna added.

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