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EPA lawsuit may set safer standards for oil refinery emissions

Louisiana is home to 17 oil refineries, the third-highest number in the United States. With two of the nation's ten heaviest polluting refineries, Louisiana faces more refinery emissions than any other state except Texas.

It is no surprise, then, that a Louisiana group joined a coalition of Gulf Coat organizations in a recent environmental lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency. The suit is aimed at securing and enforcing stricter air pollution standards for oil refineries.

The lawsuit claims that the EPA has failed to fulfill its duty to protect people living near refineries from health risks associated with high emissions. The Clean Air Act dictates that the EPA must review regulatory standards every eight years to minimize risks. This also helps regulations to stay consistent with the emissions-reducing capabilities of the latest technology.

"It is not fair for any of our children to automatically start life with a higher risk of cancer and other disease just because of where they are born and grow up," said an attorney representing the coalition.

American oil refineries report releasing about 40 million pounds of air pollutants each year. These emissions include cyanide, formaldehyde and benzene, which has been found to cause cancer. These emissions also contribute to dangerous ozone pollution.

Even more alarming are recent studies showing that refineries tend to drastically underreport their emissions. The EPA makes and enforces emissions rules based on these flawed estimates when actual emissions can be up to 100 times higher than refineries report.

In response to threats of a lawsuit, the EPA submitted new emissions regulations to the White House for review in August, before the suit was filed. If those proposed rules are approved and enacted it could be a powerful first step toward cleaning up Louisiana's air and protecting its residents from pollution and illness.

Source: The Institute for Southern Studies, "Community groups sue EPA over oil refinery pollution," Sue Sturgis, Oct. 2, 2012

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