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 Corp. facility near Mossville, La., and the OxyVinyls LP 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 — also has 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, waste water, heat exchangers, and storage vessels used in PVC production, and set emission limits and work practice standards for total organic air toxics, and for three specific air toxics: vinyl chloride, hydrogen chloride and chlorinated dibenzodioxins 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 Falls Church, Va.-based Center for Health, Environment & Justice, in a statement. “This community should receive the greatest, not the weakest, protection.”
“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 Jim Pew, an attorney for Earthjustice, headquartered in San Francisco.
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.”
VI said the final PVC MACT regulation had data errors and textual conflicts, as well as some “regulatory oversights.” The trade group 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.
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.