Pruitt’s New Toxic Loophole

The Houston region could see a sharp increase in harmful air pollution under a regulatory loophole recently created by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, a new Environmental Defense Fund analysis found.

In January, Pruitt’s EPA abruptly overturned long-standing protections against hazardous air pollutants, such as cancer-causing benzene. The new policy would allow many industrial facilities now regulated as major sources of pollution to operate under weaker standards – or to avoid federal limits altogether.

Pruitt’s EPA issued this dangerous new “Air Toxics Loophole” without any opportunity for public comment and with no consideration of its consequences on human health.

Here are three takeaways from the analysis:

Houston’s air quality is already bad. It could get worse.

EDF’s report focuses on the Houston region, home to more than 400 chemical manufacturers and nine oil refineries. These facilities release several harmful pollutants, including benzene and formaldehyde, into the air.

At least 18 facilities in the Houston area would be eligible to use Pruitt’s new loophole, according to recent emissions and regulatory data. If all of them use it, their hazardous air pollution could increase up to 900,000 pounds – nearly 2 1/2 times their 2014 levels.

In addition to benzene, Pruitt’s reckless action weakens limits for mercury, arsenic, xylene and toluene. These pollutants can irreparably harm the brain, heart, kidneys and lungs.

The heaviest burden would fall on communities already at risk.

The industrial facilities potentially affected by the policy’s repeal are located throughout the Houston region. They include the Huntsman petrochemical plant in Conroe, the GB Biosciences Greens Bayou plant in Houston and the Chevron Phillips plastics complex in Pasadena. 

Nearly 20,000 people live within three miles of each facility in EDF’s report. Most of them are people of color, and more than one-third of them live below the federal poverty level.

Many of these communities bore the heaviest burden from the extra air pollution released by industrial facilities in the days after Hurricane Harvey reached Houston. Companies initially understated the amount and potential toxicity of the storm-related pollution, the Houston Chronicle reported.

We can do better.

EDF and Environmental Integrity Project – both organizations are founding members of One Breath Partnership – have joined other public health and environmental groups in a lawsuit to stop Pruitt’s Air Toxics Loophole.

We want EPA to evaluate the consequences of the Air Toxics Loophole for families and communities who live and work near sources of hazardous air pollutants – and to withdraw this destructive new policy until the agency can demonstrate that it will not harm human health and the environment.

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