Friday, December 3, 2010

EPA asked to Veto Murphy Oil's Air Permit

Concerned Citizens Ask EPA to Veto Murphy Oil's Air Permit

St. Bernard Parish, LA, December 2, 2010 – Concerned Citizens Around Murphy ("Concerned Citizens") filed suit yesterday to compel EPA to veto a Clean Air Act permit for Murphy Oil U.S.A., Inc.’s refinery in Meraux, Louisiana. Concerned Citizens brought the action because the permit fails to require state-of-the-art pollution control technology. Concerned Citizens Around Murphy v. Jackson, No. 2:10-cv-04444 (E.D. La. Dec. 1, 2010).

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) issued the permit to Murphy in October 2009. Concerned Citizens, represented by the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, petitioned EPA to object in December 2009. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA must grant or deny these types of petitions within 60 days. Yesterday’s lawsuit seeks a court order to force EPA to respond.

The permit is for a processing unit for low-benzene gasoline products at Murphy’s Meraux refinery. LDEQ based the permit limits on pollution estimates that fell below a threshold for installation of state-of-the-art pollution controls (known as Best Available Control Technology). The Concerned Citizens’ petition to EPA, however, shows that LDEQ miscalculated and that changes to the refinery are “major,” triggering the requirement for more stringent pollution control technology. The petition also shows that LDEQ failed to gather enough emission data to make a reliable judgment about whether Murphy’s application triggered the requirement for state-of-the-art controls.

“We may have to bear increased emissions in our neighborhood because of this project. But we believe that Murphy Oil’s application low-balled how much those emissions would increase,” said Suzanne Kneale, an officer in Concerned Citizens. “If Murphy Oil showed how much they will really emit of volatile organic compounds and sulfur dioxide, then we’ll know what we’re dealing with,” she said.

The filing of this lawsuit comes a week after the refinery accidentally leaked at least 500 lbs. of sulfur dioxide—a pollutant that can cause breathing problems and respiratory disease. Also, the group sees a connection between lax emission controls and St. Bernard Parish’s failure to meet EPA’s new health protection standard for sulfur dioxide concentrations in air.

“If our air has too much of a pollutant like sulfur dioxide already, then it’s important to know the facts when a facility plans to put much more of it in our air,” said Suzanne Kneale. “If pollution exceeds a certain level, then requiring controls could rein it in to safer levels. We can have both safer emissions as well as provide for public health and our quality of life—the choice doesn’t have to be one or the other.”

Under the Clean Air Act, if the Administrator of the EPA objects to the permit, either EPA or LDEQ will modify, terminate, or revoke and reissue the permit to correct the deficiencies.

The Concerned Citizens’ petition to EPA and yesterday’s lawsuit against EPA raises a separate issue from the permit violations involved in an earlier lawsuit between the Concerned Citizens and Murphy. Yesterday’s lawsuit involves a dispute about appropriate permit limits, as opposed to the permit violations that were at issue in the earlier lawsuit. In that earlier case, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana ruled that Murphy “frequently violated its permits by exceeding emission limitations and continued to violate them after plaintiffs filed suit.” Concerned Citizens Around Murphy v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc., No. 08-4986 (E.D. La. Feb. 3, 2010). After that ruling, the Concerned Citizens joined Global Consent Decree negotiations with EPA, Murphy, and LDEQ. These negotiations resulted in a draft Consent Decree that EPA lodged with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin on September 28, 2010. (The Consent Decree is lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin because it governs both of Murphy’s U.S. refineries, one of which is located in Superior, Wisconsin.) That Consent Decree is expected to resolve the lawsuit between the Concerned Citizens and Murphy and the Concerned Citizens are hopeful that the Consent Decree will result in increased cooperation between the refinery and its neighbors. The Concerned Citizen’s view yesterday’s lawsuit as part of their ongoing participation in the public permitting process and are optimistic that they will reach an early and cooperative resolution with EPA.

Concerned Citizens is a residents’ advocacy group whose purpose is to protect the health, safety, environment, and quality of life of Meraux and the surrounding communities in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana.


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