EPA cracks down on oil refinery pollution

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a new rule designed to slash toxic air pollution generated by petroleum refineries.

The rule, which will be implemented in 2018, requires refiners to reduce toxic air pollutants by 5,200 tons and cut 50,000 tons of volatile organic compounds from the air every year.

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It also requires refiners, for the first time, to monitor concentrations of benzene, a chemical that has been linked to health problems, at their sites and inform the public about those levels. If the benzene levels exceed federal regulations, refiners will have to reduce them.

 In a statement, the EPA pitched the new rule as a public health necessity. 

“These updated Clean Air Act standards will lower the cancer risk from petroleum refineries for more than 1.4 million people and are a substantial step forward in EPA’s work to protect the health of vulnerable communities located near these facilities,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyDozens of senators push EPA for higher ethanol mandate The Hill's 12:30 Report Overnight Energy: Obama signs chemical safety reform into law MORE said in the statement. 

There are 142 large refineries in the United States, and 6.1 million people within three miles of them.  

The agency said the regulation will cost about $63 million to implement annually and that the final standards “will have a negligible impact on the cost of petroleum products.”

The oil industry pushed back against the rule last year during the comment period, saying the standard would be “infeasible” to comply with and warned they could increase emissions of greenhouse gases.

On Tuesday, the American Petroleum Institute (API) said regulators considered some of their concerns and tweaked the rule in some ways. But even so, API said the rule is still too expensive. It predicts it would cost $1 billion to implement and contends refiners were already working hard on reducing their emissions. 

“Despite these improvements, regulators need to be thoughtful about the additional impacts of new regulations and added costs to delivering affordable energy to U.S. consumers,” API Downstream Group Director Bob Greco said in a statement. 

“Companies have already spent billions of dollars to reduce emissions by installing flare gas recovery and flare minimization systems to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and air quality continues to improve as a result of these voluntary programs and existing regulations,” he added.