By Andrew H. Perellis and Craig B. Simonsen

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has just signed a proposed rule to update the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for petroleum refineries to “protect neighborhoods located near refineries.”

According to the Administrator, “this proposal will help us accomplish our goal of making a visible difference in the health and the environment of communities across the country.” “The common-sense steps we are proposing will protect the health of families who live near refineries and will provide them with important information about the quality of the air they breathe.” Press Release, May 15, 2014.

The proposed rule will, if adopted, require monitoring of air concentrations of benzene around the fenceline perimeter of refineries to assure that emissions are controlled. The proposed rule will also make the results available to the public. In addition, it would require the upgrade of emission controls for storage tanks; performance requirements for flares to ensure that waste gases are properly destroyed; and emissions standards for delayed coking units.

If fully  implemented, EPA estimates toxic air emissions, including benzene, toluene, and xylene, would be reduced by 5,600 tons per year. Volatile organic compound emissions would be cut by approximately 52,000 tons per year. The Agency suggests that “these cost-effective steps will have no noticeable impact on the cost of petroleum products at the approximately 150 petroleum refineries around the country.”

In response to the proposed rule, the American Petroleum Institute countered that the rule “comes with a high price tag but uncertain environmental benefits while emissions continue to fall under existing regulations.” “EPA has already concluded the risks associated with refinery emissions are low and the public is protected with an ample margin of safety.” Likewise, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers responded that “the risk concerns of this rule do not justify additional controls that EPA is proposing. The rule requires some unprecedented changes such as fenceline monitors that are not justified by the risk findings. EPA’s one-size-fits-all approach to this monitoring will require every facility in the United States, regardless of risk, to install monitoring equipment throughout the facility.”

The Agency indicated that it will hold a public hearing on the proposed rule. Comments will be due sixty days after date of publication in the Federal Register.