New Report Shows Rollback of Federal Air Pollution Control Rule Will Multiply Toxic Emissions

Examination of 12 Industrial Plants in IL, IN, MI, MN, and OH Show Toxic Air Pollution Could Increase 4 X

Washington, D.C. March 26, 2018 – On the day that seven environmental groups filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s rollback of an air pollution control rule, a new report concludes that the rollback will allow many industrial plants across the U.S. to switch off their pollution control systems and release as much as four times more toxic air pollutants that threaten public health. These emissions include neurotoxins like lead, carcinogens like benzene and dioxin, and acid gases.

The Environmental Integrity Project’s report, “Toxic Shell Game,” examines the administration’s withdrawal in January of a 23-year-old EPA policy called “Once In, Always In,” which requires hundreds of major sources of air pollution — coal-fired power plants, chemical factories, steel mills and other industrial facilities — to continue running their air pollution control systems once they install them.  These systems can remove or destroy as much as 99 percent of hazardous air pollutants that would otherwise be released to the atmosphere.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit organization studied EPA enforcement records and emissions data for 12 industrial plants in the Midwest and concluded that the rollback of the rule would could more than quadruple their emissions of toxic air pollution, from 121,082 pounds a year today to a total of 540,000 pounds annually. The plants examined in this study represent only a fraction of the hundreds of facilities that are now free to relax their emission controls.

Earthjustice filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of the Environmental Integrity Project, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and other organizations asking the DC Circuit Court of Appeals to prevent the policy change and strike down EPA’s new exemption.

“This reckless decision allows factories to switch off their pollution control systems to save a few dollars, even if that means dumping  more toxic air pollution on their neighbors and putting their health at risk,” said Eric Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Environmental Integrity Project and former Director of Civil Enforcement at EPA.

“Even worse, the rollback would allow these companies to stop monitoring based on their promise not to increase their emissions beyond the new thresholds for exemption,” Schaeffer said.  “That’s like taking speedometers out of cars for anyone who agrees not to drive faster than the speed limit.”

Just over 60,000 people live within a mile of the 12 plants studied by EIP in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota. And more than half of these communities have poverty rates more than twice the national average of 13 percent and have disproportionately large numbers of African American or Latino residents, according to the report.

“Communities overburdened by air pollution need more protections, not less,” said Patrice Simms, Vice President of Litigation for Earthjustice’s Healthy Communities Program, representing the groups in the lawsuit. “The EPA’s action is shameful, dangerous and illegal.”

Among the plants that could see large increases in pollution are:

  • In Chicago, the an industrial drum recycling plant owned by Meyer Industrial Container LLC today emits 18,129 pounds of hazardous air pollutants including ethylbenzene, a possible carcinogen, per year. But this total could increase to 50,000 pounds annually if the rule is rolled back.
  • In Kalamazoo, Michigan, a chemical manufacturing plant owned by Cytec Industries Inc. could see its average annual emissions of methanol grow from 490 pounds per year to 20,000 pounds per year.
  • In Dayton, Ohio, a waste treatment and recovery plant owned by OGM Ltd. and Clean Water Ltd. could see its emissions of the hazardous pollutants ethylbenzene, methanol, toluene, xylene – which can impair the nervous system and cause headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting – from 1,000  pounds per year to 50,000 pounds annually.
  • In Edina, Minnesota, a plastics manufacturing plant owned by FilmTech Corp. could see its annual emissions of hazardous air pollutants including hexane grow from 7,507 pounds a year to 42,493 pounds annually.

Scott Throwe, who worked for EPA’s office of compliance until 2017, said: “I implemented this important hazardous air pollutant policy for over 20 years. The public should be aware that overturning the policy and creating this loophole for industry will significantly damage EPA’s ability to implement regulations and monitor compliance and will result in greater emissions of cancer-causing pollutants.”

Background: The Clean Air Act of 1970 requires the largest polluters to install and operate “maximum achievable control technologies” – based on the cleanest sources within their industry sector – to minimize the release of hazardous air pollutants.  The list of pollutants covered by these rules include lead and other neurotoxins, carcinogens like benzene and butadiene, and acid gases like hydrogen chloride or sulfuric acid.   These contaminants are dangerous to human health in minute quantities.

Under the “Once In, Always In” policy, adopted by EPA in 1995, once a major source of pollution is required to install these pollution control technologies they must continue running these systems, which can eliminate up to 99 percent of these air toxins.  But on January 25, 2018, the Trump Administration reversed this policy, saying that plants could turn off their pollution control systems or run them less frequently if they promise to emit less than 10 tons per year of any single pollutant, or 25 tons of any combination of pollutants.

A major problem with this change, according to EIP report, is that the EPA rule rollback wrongly assumes that polluters can accurately quantify their annual emissions to show they are low enough to quality for the exemption. But under the current rules, even the largest polluters seldom actually measure their hazardous emissions. EPA’s proposed new rules requires even less monitoring from facilities that promise to reduce their pollution.

“This report sheds valuable light on the potential health hazards from this harmful new air toxics loophole,” said Tomás Carbonell, Director of Regulatory Policy and Lead Attorney at Environmental Defense Fund.  “It underscores how reckless it was for EPA to abruptly announce this new loophole without undertaking any analysis of the impacts for public health or air quality, and without any opportunity for public comment.”

For a copy of EIP’s report, “Toxic Shell Game,” visit: http://www.environmentalintegrity.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Toxic-Shell-Game.pdf