EPA proposes stronger toxic chemical plant emissions limits

Published: Apr. 6, 2023 at 1:19 PM CDT
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LAPLACE, La. (WVUE) — St. John the Baptist Parish residents are welcoming a new commitment by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement stronger controls on toxic emissions in the region. Locals have long blamed emissions for causing illnesses in the community.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan pledged his dedication to environmental justice in Louisiana, and he followed through on that promise by announcing new rules to further limit almost 80 toxic chemicals emitted by dozens of plants in the area between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

The proposed rules would reduce cancer risk and other exposure for communities that live close to harmful emitters, the EPA said. The data would be made public and the results would force companies to fix problems that increase emissions.

“This is probably the most significant rule I’m experiencing in my 30 years of working in cancer alley,” said Beverly Wright executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice and member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. She referred to an area of dense petrochemical industry development along the Gulf Coast.

In the past, Wright said, even when emissions caused harm, residents weren’t able to sue and reduce the threat.

The proposed measure is also intended to address short-term emissions spikes when plants start up, shut down and malfunction. If the proposal is finalized, it would impact roughly 200 chemical plants, the agency said.

Last month, the EPA took legal action to restrict pollutants coming from the Denka chemical plant in Laplace. Denka is less than a half mile from an elementary school and has been targeted by federal officials for allegedly increasing the cancer risk for the nearby, majority-Black community.

A spokesperson for Denka said it is waiting to review the proposed language before commenting. Data show the plant has drastically reduced its emissions over time and it already conducts fence line monitoring, but the EPA said the plant remains dangerous to those who live nearby.

FILE - The Denka Performance Elastomer Plant sits at sunset in Reserve, La., on Sept. 23,...
FILE - The Denka Performance Elastomer Plant sits at sunset in Reserve, La., on Sept. 23, 2022. Federal officials are suing Louisiana chemical maker Denka Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, alleging that it presented an unacceptable cancer risk to the nearby majority-Black community and demanding cuts in toxic emissions. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)(Gerald Herbert | AP)

On Tuesday, Regan stood in the shadow of the plant to reveal that the new rules could reduce toxic emissions of chemicals such as Cloropreen by up to 6,000 tons in the region.

“We will never stop fighting for all people in this country no matter the color of their skin, the money in their pocket, or the community they live in because everyone in this country deserves clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and the opportunity to live a healthy life,” Regan said. “For generations, our most vulnerable communities have unjustly borne the burden of breathing unsafe, polluted air.”

The proposal would have the biggest impact on these medical sterilization facilities. Some of the highest emitting plants in Texas and Louisiana would need to reduce their emissions. According to the agency, the proposal would slash ethylene oxide emissions nationwide by about two-thirds and chloroprene by three-quarters from 2020 levels. Emissions that worsen smog would be reduced as well.

The EPA administrator also highlighted that the new rules would target toxic emissions during plant start-ups after hurricanes, which have remained largely unregulated. The regulations would also enforce new monitoring standards around chemical plants across the country, including those in Louisiana.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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