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Regulators Hear From Wilmington Residents On Plan To Curb Refinery Emissions

LOS ANGELES (AP/ — The Environmental Protection Agency was in one of the nation's largest petroleum-producing areas Wednesday for public hearings on a proposal aimed at reducing air pollution through new controls on oil refineries.

KNX 1070's Ron Kilgore reports the daylong hearing was held at a community center in Wilmington, a blue-collar section near the city of Long Beach that is dotted by more than 6,000 oil-pumping rigs and is home to three of California's major oil refineries.

Regulators Hear From Wilmington Residents On Plan To Curb Refinery Emissions

The 9-square mile area with 53,000 residents also includes the third-largest oil field in the contiguous United States.

The topic of discussion: an 870-page proposal that would order the petroleum industry to adopt new technology to better monitor benzene emissions, upgrade storage tank emission controls and ensure waste gases are properly destroyed.

In a move regulators say would be a first of its kind, the proposal would require monitoring of air concentrations of benzene around the fence line perimeter of refineries to assure that emissions are controlled. Operators would also have to make the results of their monitoring publicly available.

EPA officials say the requirements would reduce toxic air emissions from refineries by an estimated 5,600 tons a year.

Howard Feldman of the American Petroleum Institute said even before the current EPA effort, progress has been made in reducing emissions.

"From 1990 to 2012, right here in North Long Beach, mean benzene concentrations have dropped by 89 percent," Feldman said.

But critics of the proposal like Tamanna Rahman of the American Lung Association argued more needs to be done, especially where young people are concerned.

"Children are still developing their lungs and their other organs, so in terms of exposure, they tend to have a higher level," Rahman said.

The proposal is the result of a consent decree that resolved a lawsuit brought in 2012 by the environmental groups Earthjustice and Environmental Integrity Project on behalf of people directly affected by emissions from refineries in Louisiana, Texas and California.

The action accused the EPA of shirking its responsibility under the Clean Air Act by neglecting to review and possibly revise refinery emission standards every three years. The EPA hasn't implemented new emission standards since 1995.

Earthjustice also says blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately affected by toxic emissions because they tend to live near refineries in greater numbers than whites. Wilmington is more than 85 percent Hispanic.

The EPA plans a second hearing on the proposed rule changes in Houston later this year, as well as a 60-day period for public comment before taking any action.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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