By Tegan Wendland
The Environmental Protection Agency announced a number of rule changes this week that could have a big impact on industry and quality of life in Louisiana. The new rules cut ozone emissions from 75 parts per billion to 70, and complying might pose a challenge for the state. New Orleans and Baton Rouge are now out of attainment.
This week EPA also issued rules to limit air pollution from oil refineries.
WWNO’s Tegan Wendland had a conversation with the Chair of Environmental Law at Loyola about how all this will play out. Robert Verchick used to work on policy for the EPA under the Obama Administration. (listen)
Wendland: One of the rules lowers the ozone standard so that metropolitan regions are expected to produce less of the pollutant — how might that pose a challenge for the industrial corridor along the Mississippi River, where so many of the state’s refineries are located?
Verchick: In terms of ozone the thing to remember is that it’s the federal government that sets the standard, and then it’s the state government which decides how to meet that standard. The science behind this showed that ozone contributes to hundreds of deaths a year — cardiovascular problems, lung disease, these sorts of things — so it had to be lowered, the science said it had to be lowered, to between 60 parts per billion and 70 parts per billion. The states are going to have a choice with how to reduce the emissions of ozone. Some of that will come from what we call "stationary sources," which are factories, refineries, these sorts of things... power plants. Some of that will come from mobile sources, which is what we call cars and trucks, or other things. But it’s up to states to figure out how they want to allocate that responsibility.
Wendland: Will enforcement of the new standards pose a challenge for DEQ (the state Department of Environmental Quality)?
Verchick: They will definitely increase the challenge for any kind of enforcement. That’s right. So DEQ, like many state agencies that enforce environmental laws, are strapped. They are overcommitted and in some cases their willingness to go after the worst cases may be put to the test. So it’s true that DEQ and the folks working there are going to have more on their plate and more rules to enforce as a result of that.
Wendland: The EPA is required to review these rules every five years, and some areas of the state, like Baton Rouge, have always struggled to meet them. Baton Rouge was out of compliance with the current rules until just two years ago. So what kind of challenges will areas like this face with the more stringent requirements, and what happens if they keep failing to meet them?
Verchick: That’s a good question. It is harder for areas that are out of compliance. When you’re out of compliance the law requires that you require, as a state, stricter standards for any new source of pollution that comes into your boundaries, and that makes it harder to attract certain types of industry. There definitely are cities or parts of the country that have never been in compliance with some of these rules.
Wendland: I want to switch gears here and ask about the other rule, which limits emissions from petroleum plants. We have about 20 here in Louisiana, and are one of the biggest producers of oil in the country, so how will this impact business?
Verchick: Well it’s going to increase costs on some of those refineries because it’s requiring fence line monitoring for benzene, and it’s also limiting the amount that refineries can flare off, their waste, so that’s going to add some more cost to these refineries. It’s also going to improve the lives of the people living there quite a bit because, again, this contributes to hundreds — nationally, thousands — of deaths a year. Benzene, coming into communities which are often low-income and often minority communities. Now when people’s health improves, when you have fewer people dying early, these things, too, will improve the economy. All of these things are a net benefit, even economically speaking. But it is going to affect certain industries and certain refineries, and here along the chemical corridor I can expect that the refineries are going to have to put more money and more resources into monitoring the air toxins that are coming from their plants.