SoCal-based air district sued. Violations of NOx RECLAIM program alleged

In “Community Groups Intervene to Defend Air Pollution Controls on Oil Refineries: Broad coalition will oppose attack by the oil industry on 2015 standards,” a Feb. 29, 2016 Earthjustice press release, the environmental justice organization makes reference to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new oil-refinery-emissions rules and explains: “The new standards were issued as the result of a 2012 lawsuit filed by Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project on behalf of seven community and environmental groups in California, Louisiana, and Texas to enforce EPA’s duty under the Clean Air Act to review and update toxic air standards for oil refineries.”

The danger from that “toxic air” is very real. Earthjustice in its Sept. 29, 2015 “Community and Environmental Groups Herald Improvements in New Oil Refinery Pollution Standards, Victory: All U.S. refineries must measure benzene in communities for the first timepress release declared: “According to the EPA, the new rule reduces cancer risk and the threats of other health hazards significantly for more than one million Americans by preventing thousands of tons of toxins from being released into the air every year.”

Understand, “[t]here are some 150 U.S.-based oil refineries discharging each year in excess of 20,000 tons of harmful emissions including benzene and toluene, chemicals linked to cancer, Earthjustice added,” as pointed out in the Air Quality Matters blog post: “EPA institutes new oil-refinery-emissions rules, tougher standards set.”

Now, in yet another press release from the same eco-justice group, this time dated Mar. 9, 2016, Earthjustice announced: “Community and conservation groups today sued the South Coast Air Quality Management District for allowing L.A.-area oil refineries and power plants to continue spewing massive amounts of smog-forming pollutants, threatening the health of millions of people already breathing the nation’s dirtiest air.”

Going a bit more into detail, Earthjustice explained: “Today’s suit says the air board violated California law by rejecting staff-proposed reforms to the NOx RECLAIM program, instead approving an oil industry-backed measure that allows refineries and other major polluters to delay installing equipment to reduce dangerous particulate matter and smog-forming nitrogen oxide, or NOx.

“The suit says the program violates California’s Health and Safety Code, which requires market-based cap and trade programs like NOx RECLAIM to achieve the same pollution reductions as direct pollution controls. Southern California refineries have already saved approximately $205 million since 2007 by delaying installation of pollution-control equipment.”

But that’s but the half of it. Earthjustice reported also: “The air board approved the weak smog measure hours after it was made public by an oil industry trade group, despite warnings from air district executive officer Barry Wallerstein that the new plan was legally indefensible. The board fired Wallerstein last week.”

There is worry among environmental and community groups that the air district, in effect, won’t do appropriately and effectively the job it is charged to do, according to Earthjustice.

The environmental justice organization in no uncertain terms makes abundantly clear that each year there are more deaths to Southern Californians from diseases related to air pollution than from crime-related fatalities and deaths caused due to traffic accidents combined, that according to educational material supplied by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Added Earthjustice in the Mar. 9, 2016 “Lawsuit Challenges Air Board’s Failure to Protect Southern California from Oil Refinery Pollution: Delayed pollution safeguards in favor of business-friendly measures prompt community and environmental groups to act” release: “The South Coast air basin is classified as ‘extreme’ for all ozone standards under California and federal clean air laws. There is no classification more polluted than ‘extreme.’”

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