Environmental Groups File Federal Lawsuit Over Air Pollution from Industrial Flares

Allies Sue EPA Over Failure to Update Inadequate, Decades-Old Standards for Controlling Toxic Emissions

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, October 29, 2020

Washington, D.C. – A coalition of ten environmental organizations today sued the Trump Administration’s EPA over its failure reduce toxic air pollution from industrial flares at petrochemical plants, gas processing facilities, municipal solid waste landfills, and other large industrial sites.

Across the country, thousands of industrial flares burn excess waste gases and release smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs), hazardous pollutants (such as carcinogenic benzene), and other pollutants that threaten the health of people living downwind, which often include communities of color and lower-income neighborhoods.

EPA has not updated two sets of air pollution control standards for industrial flares in decades—34 years and 26 years, respectively—even though the federal Clean Air Act requires the agency to review them at least once every eight years to make sure they adequately protect the public and incorporate improvements in technology.

“It’s been far too long since EPA updated these industrial flare standards, and EPA is well aware of the problem,” said Adam Kron, Senior Attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).  “Time and time again over the past decade, EPA has admitted that flares operating under these outdated standards can release many times more toxic air pollutants into local communities than estimated.  This can cause serious harm to public health.”

Joseph Otis Minott, Esq., Executive Director and Chief Counsel of Clean Air Council, said: “There is no excuse for continuing to permit antiquated pollution-controlling technology in new industrial facilities. EPA has a responsibility to protect our air and our health, and it cannot do so while sleeping at the wheel.”

The organizations that filed the lawsuit –– following notices of intent to sue EPA sent on June 11 and August 17, 2020 – are EIP, Clean Air Council, Air Alliance Houston, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Earthworks, Environment America, Environment Texas, Hoosier Environmental Council, PennEnvironment, and Texas Campaign for the Environment. 

Industrial facilities, like chemical manufacturers and natural gas processing plants, use flares as pollution control devices to burn and destroy dangerous organic compounds like benzene in waste gases. However, the flares are only effective as pollution control devices if they are operated correctly.  In a recent rulemaking, EPA estimated that one industry sector’s flares were operating at 90.4-percent efficiency rather than the expected 98 percent, resulting in the flares releasing almost five times the pollution.

For example, operators inject steam into flares to keep them from smoking, which releases soot or fine particle pollution. But they often add far more steam than is needed.  EPA and industry studies have shown that flares that are over-steamed do not burn well, releasing many times more toxic and smog-forming compounds that should have been destroyed during the combustion process.   Additionally, the current standards let operators average their measurements over long, three-hour periods rather than a shorter time, allowing for spikes that depart from proper operation. 

The industrial flares subject to the outdated standards that are the focus of today’s lawsuit include flares at petrochemical facilities, gasoline terminals, natural gas processing plants, compressor stations, solid waste landfills, and other large industrial sites.  These do not include flares at petroleum refineries, for which EPA updated standards in 2015, or flares at oil and gas wells, which have unique standards.

Using outdated standards, industrial flares can release large amounts of air pollution at the local level. For example. For example, in Texas’s Permian Basin, flares from a gas processing plant owned by Oxy USA LLC’s in Gaines County, reported emissions of 136 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in 2017, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. 

Quotes from Environmental Organizations:

Environment Texas: “In our Clean Air Act lawsuit against ExxonMobil, an expert on industrial flares testified at trial that illegal flaring emissions from the company’s Baytown petrochemical complex were probably three to four times higher than the amounts ExxonMobil reported — and that testimony went completely unrebutted,” said Luke Metzger, Executive Director of Environment Texas.  “These hidden impacts on surrounding communities are significant, as the reported violations alone already totaled 10 million pounds of harmful chemicals.”

PennEnvironment: “While many people may look back fondly and love the 80s, we’d all agree that technology and the things we know about air pollution have dramatically improved over the past three decades,” said PennEnvironment Executive Director David Masur. “Health based standards from the 80s are in no way acceptable for protecting public health, our communities and our environment today.”  

Chesapeake Climate Action Network: “For too long, fossil fuel companies have been allowed to emit dangerous levels of pollution at industrial facilities that are all too often located in minority communities,” said Anne Havemann, General Counsel at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “Virtually unchecked industrial flaring at these facilities harms the climate, health, and justice, and the EPA must fix its illegally outdated rules as soon as possible.”

Hoosier Environmental Council:  “With a ranking of 43rd in air quality, 41st in health outcomes, and 19th in COVID-19 deaths per capita, there is a great urgency in Indiana to strengthen air quality protections to reduce harm to an already vulnerable population,” said Jesse Kharbanda, Executive Director of the Hoosier Environmental Council. “We urge the EPA to revise the badly out-of-date flare standards; revisions would improve air quality in at least five of six regions of Indiana.”

Texas Campaign for the Environment:  “Industrial flares light up the skies with toxic pollution near the homes, schools and workplaces of many Texans,” said Robin Schneider, Executive Director of Texas Campaign for the Environment. “People rightly fear for the health of their families and neighbors, particularly overburdened communities of color,” said Robin Schneider, Executive Director of Texas Campaign for the Environment.

Earthworks: “The EPA has neglected to properly review the harmful effects of flaring on the health of nearby residents for decades,” said Aaron Mintzes, Senior Policy Counsel for Earthworks. “Optical gas images (OGI) documented in the field show improperly combusing flares and reveal the urgent need for the EPA review this litigation seeks.”

For a copy of the lawsuit, click here.

The Environmental Integrity Project is an 18-year-old nonprofit organization, based in Washington D.C. and Austin, Texas, that is dedicated to enforcing environmental laws and strengthening policy to protect public health.

Clean Air Council is a member-supported environmental organization dedicated to protecting and defending everyone’s right to a healthy environment.

Air Alliance Houston is a non-profit advocacy organization working to reduce the public health impacts of air pollution and advance environmental justice.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) is the first grassroots, nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to fighting global warming in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

Earthworks is a national nonprofit dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the impacts of fossil fuels and striving for a just, equitable, and fair transition to clean energy.

Environment America is a national network of 29 state environmental groups that work for clean air, clean water, clean energy, wildlife and open spaces, and a livable climate.

Environment Texas is a non-profit advocate for clean air, clean water, and open space.

The Hoosier Environmental Council is Indiana’s largest environmental public policy organization, working to address environmental justice, protect land and water, and advance a sustainable economy.

PennEnvironment is a statewide, citizen-based nonprofit environmental advocacy group working for clean air, clean water, tackling climate change and preserving Pennsylvania’s incredible outdoor places.

Texas Campaign for the Environment (TCE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to informing and mobilizing Texans to protect the quality of their lives, their health, their communities, and the environment. 

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Media contact: Tom Pelton, Environmental Integrity Project, (443) 510-2574 or tpelton@environmentalintegrity.org

Justin Wasser, Earthworks, (202) 753-7016 or jwasser@earthworks.org

New Bombshell Analysis Shows Environmental Justice Impacts of Maryland Eastern Shore Pipeline Project

Activists Call on Board of Public Works to Reject Eastern Shore Pipeline Ahead of Key Decision

Board of Public Works expected to issue or reject key permit in early November 

ANNAPOLIS, MD – Top progressive environmental and justice advocates held a telepress conference today, calling on Governor Hogan and the Board of Public Works to reject the proposed Eastern Shore Pipeline project. The BPW is expected to issue a decision on a key permit for the project in early November. 

Activists also released a new spatial analysis, conducted by GIS expert Stephen Metts, showing that the project runs through primarily majority-minority and low-income communities. The topline finding is that there is a predominance of Environmental Justice (EJ)-eligible census block groups up and down the two proposed projects.  In fact, there are only four of 40 one-mile study area tracts that are not EJ-eligible. There is particularly high risk at the head of the Del-Mar project in the city of Salisbury, which is where the developers are planning to site a “renewable natural gas facility” — using waste from livestock, which is associated with a host of additional health threats. 

READ THE FULL ANALYSIS HERE

Email denise@chesapeakeclimate.org to request a recording of the press conference.

The pipeline is already under construction in Delaware to carry gas from that state into Maryland. The seven miles of pipeline proposed for Maryland would supply concentrated animal feeding operations, businesses, and residential areas. The two “anchor” customers for gas delivery are the Eastern Correctional Institute (ECI) and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) in Somerset County. If built, the Del-Mar pipeline would trigger the second pipeline proposed by Chesapeake Utilities connecting the prison to the university. The installation of the Del-Mar pipeline will impact 1,239 square feet of streams and more than 30,000 square feet of wetlands and wetland buffers. It is anticipated to come online in late 2021. 

“Water is essential to human life all over the world, but here in Maryland, it’s an especially important part of our culture and economy,” said Susan Olsen, chair of the Sierra Club’s Lower Eastern Shore Group. “At a time when clean, renewable energy is affordable and abundant, we shouldn’t be building dirty, dangerous fracked gas pipelines. Our state should reject the Eastern Shore fracked gas pipelines — the health of Maryland’s water, economy, and people depends on it.”

The Board of Public Works is expected to decide on the wetlands permit for the Del-Mar pipeline portion in early November, after Governor Hogan’s Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) recommended approval earlier this month. MDE is still reviewing the impacts the Chesapeake Utilities Project will have on the region’s wetlands and a separate decision on that portion is expected in early 2021.

“Putting in this pipeline will damage my campus community and the local community because it is not sustainable,” said Jailynn Britt, student at University of Maryland Eastern Shore and UMES delegate for the MaryPIRG’s climate justice group. “It will create long-lasting problems that affect the water and the air, which in the long run, hurts the people in this already impoverished community. It also will hurt an already small HBCU, which needs more help, not more problems.”

On the call, activists explained how the Hogan Administration has put its thumb on the scale for this project. While studies have shown that there are cheaper, viable alternatives to gas, including electrification and geothermal energy, the State of Maryland didn’t consider any of these options. Instead, it only requested applications for a gas pipeline to supply gas to two state-run facilities. And every contract that Maryland Environmental Services has awarded since the passage of the fracking ban has unduly prioritized fracked gas. Key excerpts from each of the four contracts awarded are linked here.

“We know that the Eastern Shore, which is essentially surrounded by water, is ground zero for climate change in Maryland,” said Anthony Field, Maryland Grassroots Coordinator at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “We also know that the expansion of dangerous gas infrastructure like this is a major step in the wrong direction. Importing fracked gas runs counter to MD’s commitment to climate action.”

This also comes on the heels of a new white paper released by CCAN, the Sierra Club, and the Wicomico Environmental Trust, showing that these fracked-gas pipelines would be an economic boondoggle. The economics of gas are faltering, with hundreds of gas companies expected to declare bankruptcy by the end of next year. These bankruptcies, combined with Maryland’s commitment to tackling climate change through electrification of buildings, raises concerns that investing in new gas infrastructure will lock ratepayers into paying for decades for a product that will not be viable for that long. 

“It is economically foolish to build the very expensive polluting infrastructure of gas pipelines and equipment, which is already outpriced by highly competitive and non-polluting solar and wind,” said John Groutt of the Wicomico Environmental Trust. “The pipelines will become worthless stranded assets within a very few years, leaving Maryland taxpayers to continue paying for it for years to come.” 

The fracked-gas industry is faltering. Companies behind the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline cancelled the project due to ballooning costs and legal uncertainties. And the Dakota Access pipeline was ordered to shut down for an environmental review.  Meanwhile, in late June, the fracking giant Chesapeake Energy filed for bankruptcy. These setbacks for the industry demonstrate that fracking is a risky investment, for the climate, the environment, and the economy.

These two pipelines are part of the Hogan Administration’s plans to spend $103 million massively increasing fracked-gas pipelines and infrastructure in the state. This includes $30.3 million administered by the Maryland Energy Administration’s (MEA) new Maryland Gas Expansion Fund “for the expansion of natural gas infrastructure.” The remaining $70 million is recoverable from MD ratepayers. Read more about it here.

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The Chesapeake Climate Action Network is the first grassroots organization dedicated exclusively to raising awareness about the impacts and solutions associated with global warming in the Chesapeake Bay region. For 17 years, CCAN has been at the center of the fight for clean energy and wise climate policy in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

FERC Grants Mountain Valley Pipeline Permit Despite Continued Doubts It Will Be Completed

Controversial Fracked Gas Pipeline Still Lacks Essential Authorizations

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) granted Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC (MVP) permission to resume construction, even though the beleaguered fracked gas project still lacks some necessary authorizations. Industry watchers are growing increasingly skeptical of MVP’s future after a similar fracked gas pipeline, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, was cancelled as a result of similar permitting and legal challenges. Over a dozen environmental advocacy organizations have opposed MVP’s request.

Planned to run over 300 miles through West Virginia and Virginia, state inspectors have already identified hundreds of violations of commonsense water protections, and MVP has paid millions of dollars in penalties. There are also questions about whether MVP is accurately reporting how much of the project has been completed, with one analysis showing it is only 51% finished. At this time the project is at least $2 billion over budget, two years behind schedule, and developers admit they need two more years to complete the project. 

In response, Sierra Club Beyond Dirty Fuels Senior Campaign Representative Joan Walker released the following statement:

“MVP has violated commonsense water protections hundreds of times and allowing them to resume construction just means putting more communities at risk for an unnecessary pipeline that may never even be built. FERC is supposed to regulate these fracked gas projects, not roll over for them.”

Roberta Bondurant of Preserve Bent Mountain/BREDL said:

“MVP construction crews have yet to traverse the most intense and well known geohazards —steep, in some places, nearly vertical slopes, slip prone soils, karst, and earthquakes— in the height of a global pandemic, during hurricane season —these multiple geohazards make today’s FERC/MVP plan to resume construction maniacal, wholly destructive to land, forest, water and living beings. With such challenges ahead, MVP’s promises to complete by any time in 2021 simply fly in the face of fact. People and places in the path of MVP are not disposable—we won’t be sacrificed for MVP investment returns.” 

Russell Chisholm, Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights Co-chair said:

“FERC’s dangerous decision is an attempt to rescue MVP from their own mismanagement despite years of delays and documented failures. FERC favors energy policy by force, rewards negligence over the objections of thousands, ignores the evidence of harm to our communities, and shamefully denies climate realities. To do this as the COVID-19 crisis spreads through rural Virginia and West Virginia puts MVP and FERC’s disregard for our safety on full display.”

David Sligh, Conservation Director of Wild Virginia said:

“This is another in a long list of irresponsible decisions by FERC. In allowing construction to proceed while MVP still lacks required permits, the Commission is enabling the corporation’s attempt to rush ahead, heedless of the harm already done and that which is sure to follow if this decision stands. The MVP is still not a done deal and FERC’s collusion with the frackers won’t make it so.”

Jessica Sims, Virginia Field Coordinator with Appalachian Voices said:

“It’s clear that MVP is pulling out all the stops to rush this project through, and FERC is letting them get away with it. The agency ignored the 43,000 people who vigorously opposed this project moving forward, and disregarded the hundreds of water quality violations racked up so far. This pipeline was not needed when it was proposed, and is even less needed now. We will continue fighting to stop it.” 

Anne Havemann, General Counsel at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said: 

“FERC’s decision is unconscionable. Coronavirus is still raging in Virginia and now FERC is allowing fracked-gas companies to push through another health hazard. Tens of thousands of Virginians oppose this pipeline because they know we don’t need it. We will keep fighting it until we win.” 

Jared Margolis, Senior Attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said:

“FERC is clearly not interested in protecting the public or ensuring that massive fossil fuel pipelines like MVP actually comply with the law. This project is a travesty that should never have been approved, and now it is being allowed to proceed even after devastating environmental harm from construction activities. We will continue to fight this horrible project to protect the people, wildlife and waterways in its path.”

CONTACT: Doug Jackson, 202.495.3045 or doug.jackson@sierraclub.org

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Meet a CCANer: Jamie DeMarco

Tell me a little bit about yourself!

I grew up in northeast Baltimore and attended Warren Wilson College in western North Carolina, where I majored in Chemistry and Environmental Studies. Towards the end of undergrad I interned for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and when I graduated I got a job working at the Friends Committee on National Legislation. I helped found the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs initiative and then took a job working for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. I was raised Quaker, and my faith community remains important to me today. 

What woke you up to the climate crisis?

Until I was a senior in high school, as far as I could tell the world was pretty hunky dory. Then my girlfriend told me, “Jamie, the lives we live come at the cost of people and places all over the world.” I was floored and could hardly live with myself and the consequences of my privilege. 

At first, I didn’t know what to do, so I tried to cut myself off entirely from the unjust system I grew up in. I stopped riding in cars and wouldn’t get in a car for years with only the very rare exception. Then, in college I started working on the Asheville Beyond Coal campaign. I saw the power of organizing, and we shut down that coal plant. I decided to stop trying to not be part of the problem and start trying to be part of the solution. 

What impacts of climate change currently hit home to you? 

A street in Baltimore after a heavy rain event.

I grew up in Baltimore, and my home city is now suing the fossil fuel industry for the costs that climate change has caused. The sewer system cannot handle the increased precipitation events. The inner harbor is flooding ever more regularly. Heat waves are killing more and more people in the city. Just a few years ago, the road my dad’s office is on collapsed from heavy rain and disrepair.  

What brought you to CCAN? 

I like fighting for and passing bold climate legislation. More than any organization I know of, CCAN picks an ambitious legislative goal, goes all out to campaign for it, wins, then does it again. 

I love Maryland and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere outside the Chesapeake watershed. Working at CCAN gives me the opportunity to stay connected to my roots while making a difference in local and national politics. 

What has inspired you most working with CCAN?

I have always been inspired by the dedication of supporters. It is clear that the greater CCAN family is deeply committed to climate justice and doing whatever it takes to achieve it. Whether it is phone banking for hours or jumping in the frozen Potomac, these people will do it. 

What have you contributed to bringing about a clean energy revolution that you are most proud of?

I have worked on a lot of successful campaigns including my college divestment campaign, the Asheville Beyond Coal campaign, the Maryland Fracking Ban, the Clean Energy DC Act, enacting the Oregon executive order, and others. The campaign worked most intimately on and put the most of my soul into was the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs campaign in 2019. 

What do you hope to see happen in terms of climate in the next year?

I think that by August 2021 we will have enacted the Clean Air Act of our time at the national level. After years of building, our movement has reached a crescendo and is now a top issue in national politics. I came to CCAN in part because I want to be part of making sure we do pass sweeping climate legislation in Congress.

What do you like to do when you’re not working on climate change?

What I value most is spending quality time with my friends and family, laughing, playing board games, and catching up. I enjoy running but still don’t run as much as I want to. I miss a lot of my friends now that we all have to social distance, but I also appreciate spending more time alone to relax. 

Who would you high five?

Bill McKibben. He’s the one who roped me into this mess. 

Meet a CCANer: Kim Jemaine

Virginia mountains

Kim Jemaine is CCAN’s new Virginia Director.

Tell me a little bit about yourself! 

I’m originally from Pretoria, South Africa but have called Virginia home for the last 20 years. I’ve been lucky enough to work throughout the Commonwealth on electoral and issue advocacy campaigns. I have spent the last three years working in the environmental policy realm and come to CCAN from a role as the Public Policy Manager for the League of Conservation Voters. I also received both my degrees from Virginia schools, obtaining a B.A. in International Affairs from the University of Mary Washington and an M.A. in Government with a concentration in Law and Public Policy from Regent University.

What woke you up to the climate crisis?

My awakening to the climate crisis came less from a singular event and more through education and an understanding of science. As a mother, I feel an obligation to be a part of the work to secure a livable planet for our children. Furthermore, my time in the environmental sphere has opened my eyes to the reality that certain demographics bear the weight of layers of injustice, specifically when it comes to climate change, pollution, and environmental degradation. I believe that it’s a moral imperative to confront this fact and do the work to lift those burdens through policy implementation and systemic change. 

What impacts of climate change currently hit home to you? 

I know that in order to secure a livable climate for my daughter, we have to be deliberate about combating climate change now. It is a fight that has been put off for far too long and cannot wait any longer.

What brought you to CCAN? 

CCAN boasts a robust grassroots base as well as a history of legislative victories. This role perfectly marries my experience in grassroots organizing and my recent work within environmental public policy. CCAN is on the forefront of advocating for big, transformative solutions to the climate crisis, and I want to be a part of promoting that vision in Virginia. 

What has inspired you most working with CCAN?

Although I’ve only been with CCAN for a short time, it has been energizing to be surrounded by a team that is so proactive about thinking through, researching, and promoting climate solutions.

What have you contributed to bringing about a clean energy revolution that you are most proud of?

Within my previous role, I was granted an opportunity to play a small part in a number of the climate victories (VCEA, RGGI, and Environmental Justice) during the 2020 Legislative Session in Virginia. 

What do you hope to see happen in terms of climate in the next year?

I’d like to see widespread acceptance of the fact that climate change is real and has to be confronted through deliberate and thoughtful action by legislators, advocates, and industry leaders. 

In terms of policy, I hope to see movement toward transforming our transportation systems and making transit more reliable, accessible, and affordable for all Virginians.

What do you like to do when you’re not working on climate change?

I like to hike, read, travel, eat good food, and spend time with my family.

Who would you high five?

I would high five Dr. Ayana Johnson. She is a marine biologist and works heavily in conservation policy and climate solutions.