Environmental activists on Thursday said more stringent air-quality regulations are needed for oil refineries along the Gulf Coast, a region densely populated with petroleum industry plants.
The Environmental Integrity Project blamed state-level regulations that are weaker than in other parts of the country, as well as lax oversight, for above-average levels of noxious emissions.
The Washington-based advocacy group also released a list of the top 10 most polluting refineries in the country, based on an analysis of 2004 emissions data from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Topping the list, with nearly 2.1 million pounds of carcinogens such as benzene and formaldehyde was BP PLC's refinery in Texas City, Texas, though the advocacy group said that number was skewed dramatically upward due to a one-time release of nearly 2 million pounds of formaldehyde in 2004.
Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project, said the high numbers from BP, compared with other companies, raise questions about whether oil refiners are reporting their emissions accurately to the government.
"There's a gap between what people are breathing and what companies are reporting," Schaeffer said.
But BP spokesman Scott Dean said the number resulted from a "sizable error" the company made in its 2004 data, which inflated its carcinogen results by at least 1.2 million pounds.
"We're working very hard to get real monitoring data that can give us some real numbers," Dean said. In addition, he said, BP is spending $300 million in upgrades to cut down on toxic emissions at Texas City.
The National Petrochemical and Refiners Association called the report "misleading." Specifically, the association said that while the EPA data count total emissions, they do not measure human impact. A better measure, the group said, is air quality stations around the country, which have shown declines in toxic air levels since the early 1990s.
Moreover, all of the refineries in the report are operating "well within" EPA-permitted levels, Charlie Drevna, the group's executive vice president, said. "We are making cleaner and cleaner burning products, whether it's gasoline or diesel, and we have also significantly reduced emissions," Drevna said.
Second on the list was Exxon Mobil Corp.'s Baytown, Texas refinery. Third was privately held Koch Industries Inc.'s Flint Hills refinery in Corpus Christi.
Fourth was Delek US Holdings Inc.'s La Gloria refinery in Tyler, Texas, and fifth was Lyondell Chemical Co.'s refinery in Houston.
Fred Green, vice president and chief operating officer of Delek Refining, said in an e-mailed statement that his company, which acquired the Tyler refinery in spring 2005, has installed new testing equipment and expects to report a "substantial reduction" in benzene emissions for 2006.
Environmentalists noted that California's stringent pollution regulations kept that state's refineries off the top 10 polluters list, which included six in Texas, three in Louisiana and one in Pennsylvania. California's strict clean-air rules are also one reason the state's motorists pay some of the highest fuel prices in the country.
Texas refineries spewed more than double the amount of carcinogens per barrel of oil than California refineries in 2004, the study found.
Several activists said the Environmental Protection Agency has not been aggressive enough under the Bush Administration in overseeing refinery pollution, and also said public officials in Texas and Louisiana have been reluctant to confront oil interests.
"There simply isn't the political will, in Texas anyway, to impose the kinds of regulations that California has," said Meg Healy, research director of the Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention, an environmental group.
Jennifer Wood, an EPA spokeswoman, said in an e-mail the agency has entered into settlements covering nearly 80 percent of the country's refining capacity and is "committed to holding polluters accountable."
Story courtesy of the Associated Press.