SE Texas Record

Saturday, November 16, 2019

EPA, activists near agreement on natural gas emissions review

By Kate Jacobson | Oct 19, 2016


HOUSTON -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has offered to reach an agreement with a group of non-profits that sued the agency over emission factors.

The EPA has agreed to review emission factors for measuring volatile organic compounds emitted from natural gas production facilities sometime before June 2017. The agreement came after four environmental non-profits sued the agency alleging a dereliction of duty on the agency’s part.

The agreement outlines the agency’s plan to action, but does not admit negligence.

Smoke from industrial smoke stack | Public Domain Pictures

Air Alliance Houston, Community In-Power and Development Association (CIDA), the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS) filed the initial complaint against EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, saying she and previous administrators have not reviewed emission standards for natural gas production facilities in 30 years.

The Clean Air Act requires emission factors to be reviewed every three years.

The suit, filed Oct. 8, asks that the court force the EPA to review its emissions factors used to estimate volatile organic compound emissions for areas near natural gas facilities and to update its emissions data available to the public. The non-profits argue that because there has been no review of emission factors – and because there is no current data to show “true” air quality – people are being harmed.

“The under-reporting of emissions may expose members to pollutants at levels that are higher than the law allows and in concentrations deleterious to human health,” the suit reads.

In response, the EPA filed a consent decree resolving the issue Oct. 16. The agency agreed to review natural gas volatile organic compound emissions by June, and issue a final revision as part of the Clean Air Act by February 2018.

The EPA estimates 5.6 pounds of volatile organic compounds emitted from natural gas production facility flares for every million cubic feet of gas produced. That figure was surmised in 1985, and reprinted in 1990 as part of the EPA’s National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program Emissions Inventory.

Emissions from natural gas production facilities are known to have negative impacts on health. The federal government noted in 2011 that volatile organic compounds are known to cause asthma, respiratory morbidity and premature death.

The non-profits say this is especially troubling for low-income families who are known to live in neighborhoods near natural gas production facilities.

“Low income and minority communities suffer disproportionate health and environmental impacts due to their proximity to these industrial sources, raising environmental justice concerns,” the suit says.

The agreement will be open for public comment for 30 days and then will be reviewed by the agency.

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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)