WASHINGTON (June 20, 4:10 p.m. ET) — The vinyl industry and several environmental groups have filed separate lawsuits challenging rules adopted earlier this year by the Environmental Protection Agency to control air emissions at the 17 PVC manufacturing plants in the United States.
A lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of four environmental groups charges that EPA's rules are too weak, particularly for the CertainTeed facility near Mossville, La., and the OxyVinyl facility in Deer Park, Texas.
“We urge EPA to reconsider the final PVC rule and issue a new, stronger final rule for both area and major sources,” the suit said. “The EPA's emission standards for the plants … are especially weak, allowing these plants to emit toxic pollutants at far greater concentrations than other [U.S.] PVC facilities.”
The Vinyl Institute — which represents companies that manufacture vinyl, vinyl chloride monomer, vinyl additives and modifiers, and vinyl packaging materials — has also a filed lawsuit against the rules. VI said if EPA does not address changes that it proposes to the rules, it “will significantly hamper normal facility operations and compliance” by manufacturers.
Both lawsuits were filed June 18 in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington. Both groups also filed separate petitions with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, asking her to voluntarily reconsider the agency's decision.
The lawsuits challenge the PVC MACT regulations adopted in February. MACT is the acronym for maximum achievable controllable technology standards for major sources of emissions.
The rules address emissions from PVC process vents, stripped resin, equipment leaks, wastewater, heat exchangers, and storage vessels used in PVC production, and set emission limits and work practice standards for total organic air toxics, as well as for three specific air toxics: vinyl chloride, hydrogen chloride and chlorinated di-benzo dioxins and furans.
They replace rules that were promulgated 10 years ago, but later vacated by the courts. Previous rules only set an air emission limit for vinyl chloride and used vinyl chloride air emissions as a surrogate for all air toxics from PVC production.
The environmental groups claim that EPA decided, without any warning to the parties involved, to create special categories for controlling pollution for plants near those two cities.
“After years of work to obtain the stronger air protection we need in Mossville, La., it was a shock to our community when EPA suddenly changed course and singled us out for weaker standards as compared to the rest of the nation,” said Dorothy Felix of Mossville Environmental Action Now, which is one of the parties in the lawsuit.
Other parties include the Sierra Club, the Louisiana Environmental Action Network and the Air Alliance in Houston.
“Mossville is surrounded by more vinyl manufacturers than anywhere else in the country,” said Mike Schade, campaign coordinator with the Center for Health, Environment & Justice in a statement. “This community should receive the greatest, not the weakest, protection. Shame on EPA for issuing weaker standards for this community, which has been overburdened with toxic pollution for much too long.”
“It is hard to see how this rule honors the agency's longstanding commitments to protecting community health and providing environmental justice, particularly in the Gulf region,” added Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew.
VI, based in Alexandria, Va., did not comment on the Earthjustice suit.
But in announcing that the trade group had filed its own lawsuit, VI President and CEO Richard Doyle said “we urge EPA to accept our industry's petition for reconsideration and begin the process to make the needed changes to the final rule.”
“Our shared goal with EPA is to develop a PVC MACT rule consistent with the mandates of the Clean Air Act,” Doyle said. [But] ultimately, this MACT must allow the PVC resin industry to continue to grow to meet ... consumers' needs for our life-saving and energy efficient products.”
VI said that the final PVC MACT regulation had data errors and textual conflicts as well as some “regulatory oversights.” VI said most of the changes the industry seeks are of “central relevance” and “supported by performance data and information either not previously sought or not considered” by EPA.
“Our industry has fully supported EPA's MACT rulemaking process,” Doyle said. “This rule was long overdue after the initial update rule was overturned by the court. But a constrained and accelerated rulemaking schedule which stemmed from an EPA settlement ... led to some problems that still need to be addressed [and to] some unintended consequences.”
According to EPA data, there are currently 15 major and two area source PVC facilities in the United States — six in Louisiana, four in Texas, two in New Jersey, and one each in Delaware, Kentucky, Illinois, Michigan and Mississippi.
EPA estimates an overall total capital investment of $18 million to meet the new rule requirements, with associated annual costs of $4 million per year. For area sources, EPA estimates an overall total capital investment of $485,000 to meet the rule requirements, with associated annual costs of $167,000 per year.