EPA announces final rule to curb refinery pollution and improve public health

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Sara E Smith

Environment Texas

Austin, TX – The Environment Protection Agency has just released a final rule designed to protect communities from toxic oil refinery pollution, which includes long overdue health standards and expanded air monitoring along refinery fencelines.

“Today’s EPA announcement of the updated refinery rule is a win for public health and our environment. Here in Texas, 597,000 people with asthma, including 178,000 children, live in counties with at least one oil refinery. Thanks to this rule, fenceline communities will soon be able to breathe a little easier knowing that the EPA has updated emissions standards for refineries and required more rigorous fenceline monitoring. This rule will protect public health, improve air quality and help to safeguard our communities from dirty refinery pollution,” said Sara E. Smith, staff attorney for Environment Texas.

Pollution from oil refineries pose serious risks to the health of the people living nearby, especially children. According to a 2006 study by the University of Texas School of Public Health, children living within two miles of the Houston Ship Channel – home to 5 oil refineries – faced a 56% increased risk of leukemia compared with children living more than 10 miles away.

The EPA projects that when fully implemented this rule will result in a reduction of 5,200 tons per year of air toxic pollutants, 50,000 tons per year of volatile organic compounds and approximately 660,000 tons per year of CO2.

Environment Texas, together with the Sierra Club, have been involved in two lawsuits involving refineries in the Houston area. The two groups have settled suits against the Shell refinery in Deer Park, resulting in a reduction of over a million pounds of toxic air pollution, and are currently in the middle of a lawsuit against ExxonMobil for violations of the Clean Air Act at its Baytown refinery. In addition to this legal strategy, Environment Texas has testified in favor of updated emissions standards and fenceline monitoring using the best available technology before the EPA and generated more than 350 public comments from concerned Texans.

“We know that refinery emissions can be reduced dramatically, but this only happens when companies are forced to do so,” added Smith.  “We can’t sue everybody, so must rely on tougher federal regulations on refinery pollution to clean up our air and protect our communities. Fortunately, the EPA took a step in the right direction today and we look forward to working with them to properly implement the rules, and guarantee their enforcement here in Texas.”


Environment Texas is a citizen-funded advocacy organization in Texas working on clean air, clean water and open spaces