(August 15) The Concerned Citizens of New Sarpy announced today that the EPA has served the calamitous Orion Refinery, only 25 miles from New Orleans, with a Notice of Violation for numerous violations of the Clean Air Act. "We have been saying for years that this plant is killing us," said Dorothy Jenkins, President of the group. "We know because we live with their mess every day."
In a resounding validation of the citizens' fears, the Director of the Compliance Assurance and Enforcement Division served the Orion CEO with a nine page Notice of Violation and a delineation of the violations that have been harming the local citizens. The Notice, issued on July 23rd, was announced to the citizens in a meeting with EPA on Monday. The Notice was based on an EPA inspection. The Notice delineated that Orion's emissions exceed the reportable quantities and "can only exacerbate the potential risk or endangerment to public health or welfare, or the environment."
According to Orion's own records filed with the parish Emergency Operations Commission, the refinery's flaring and "reportable incident" rate on which the violations are based have remained high since the EPA inspection took place in 1999. "They like to tell us things are getting better all the time," said Ida Mitchell, Vice President of Concerned Citizens of New Sarpy, "but they are like an old dog that can't learn new tricks. They don't even know how to operate cleanly."
For the past three years, the Concerned Citizens of New Sarpy have sent air samples, photographs, and videotapes of Orion's environmental abuses to EPA officials. "The Concerned Citizens of New Sarpy should be congratulated for their hard work in chronicling Orion's abuses," said Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. "Orion is a dangerous element in the neighborhood, a thug lurking on the corner. The Concerned Citizens are vindicated today, and Orion's dangerous practices are exposed."
Earlier this year Orion formed a Community Advisory Panel (CAP) to discuss issues of concern - including environmental matters - with the residents. The most recent CAP meeting took place on July 25, 2002, two days after the Notice of Violation was sent via certified mail. Orion gave a presentation praising itself for giving, as CEO Eric Bluth said, "the highest priority to the environmental concerns of local residents." Eric Bluth is the same person to whom the Notice was addressed. Orion held another meeting with New Sarpy residents on August 7th, but again said nothing about the Notice. And despite repeated visits to the neighborhood over the past three weeks, Orion officials - including Community Relations Manager Henry LeBoyd - have kept the Notice from the citizens and told them nothing.
Don Winston, a member of Concerned Citizens of New Sarpy and Orion's CAP, questioned Orion's integrity. "It is interesting to note that a certified letter containing the Notice of Violation was delivered from USEPA to Eric Bluth at Orion Refinery, and yet Orion Refinery has not communicated this to its neighbors or to our CAP panel. If Orion truly wants to be a good neighbor, why withhold pertinent information?"
The Notice of Violation gave credence to many of the local residents' fears regarding flaring and excessive emissions. Cited in the notice were:
• Release of 772 tons of sulfur dioxide. Sulfur dioxide is known to harm the human respiratory system.
• Failure to conduct performance testing on some units.
• Eighty-three unpermitted emissions units at the refinery.
• Failure to properly monitor equipment.
• Excessive flaring incidents.
"Orion has become the national poster child for rogue refineries operating with complete disregard for the law and the health of its neighbors," said Denny Larson of the national Refinery Reform Campaign. "Now that EPA has verified the community complaints, everyone can see how hollow their promises and proposals are for a handing out a few dollars instead of relocating and cleaning up their act."
Since the beginning of July, the Concerned Citizens of New Sarpy have asked Orion Manager Clark Johnson to meet with them and neutral third party facilitators to discuss the problems at the refinery and the relocation of residents. Clark Johnson has not responded to the community requests, and has instead sent Orion employees into the neighborhood to ask residents to pressure Concerned Citizens of New Sarpy to stop its resistance against Orion. "All we want to do is talk, and the EPA's action proves we need to talk," said Dorothy Jenkins. "Maybe now that they are in hot water they will finally meet with us. Clark Johnson lives in Kenner, 15 miles away. He won't know what we are going through until we talk."
"The EPA has taken a serious step," said Anne Rolfes, "and we will call on other government agencies including the Department of Justice to make sure that this Notice is enforced to the fullest extent of the law."
To interview local residents, call them at the number above. Directions to the neighborhood:
From I-10 West take 310, the Boutte / Houma exit. Follow the signs to Norco. You will come out on Airline Highway, 61. Drive past a strip mall with a Winn Dixie and Burger King. Turn left at the light between Burger King and Eckerd's. Drive all the way down to River Road. Turn right and drive until you see St. Charles Street. Turn right on St. Charles Street, and you are in the neighborhood!