Washington — The U.S. should update its "decades-old" air pollution rules for plastics facilities to make them much tougher, as a counter to rising emissions from the industry's shale gas-driven growth, a coalition of more than 300 groups urged in a Dec. 3 petition.
The environmental and community groups told the Environmental Protection Agency that new rules are needed to cope with growing air emissions from what is estimated to be a 35 percent increase in North American plastics production by 2025, with much of that coming in Texas, Louisiana and in Appalachia.
It's part of an ongoing plastics focus for the groups. Many of the same organizations, including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, asked EPA in July for tougher water pollution rules for plastics facilities.
"Plastic plants are poisoning our air and fueling the climate crisis, and the EPA needs to crack down on their pollution," said Lauren Packard, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney and author of the petition. "Our oversupply of fracked gas is driving a boom in plastic production."
A spokesperson for the plastics division of the American Chemistry Council said Dec. 5 the group would comment in coming days.
In response to the earlier water pollution petition, ACC said existing regulations already set strict limits and it said its members follow the industry-run Responsible Care Initiative, which requires continuous improvement in environmental management.
Water and air emissions from plastics resin plants have been getting more attention in Washington, with a Congressional hearing in November around fenceline community issues and a few lawmakers proposing legislation requiring the EPA to update rules basically in line with the NGO petitions.
Courts have been a battleground as well. Formosa Plastics Corp. USA agreed in October to pay $50 million to settle a federal Clean Water Act lawsuit over plastic pellet pollution from a Texas factory.
In this latest petition around air emissions, the environmental groups gave EPA a specific list of regulatory actions, including designating polyethylene and polypropylene and their monomers as specific source categories under the Clean Air Act, requiring strict standards for emissions of nitrogen oxide and other pollutants.
As well, they want EPA to apply so-called New Source Performance Standards to "effectively eliminate" air emissions of specific pollutants and volatile organic compounds and put in much tougher emissions controls for fenceline and impacted communities.
The petition also asks EPA to require that the plastics facilities use renewable energy to eliminate their own greenhouse gas emissions.
The groups say many of the key air emissions standards governing the industry were last updated between 1984 and 2000.
The specific NSPS rules for polymer manufacturing, for example, were last revised in 2000 but control and monitoring technology has improved significantly since then, they said.
Those older rules "allow industry to employ environmentally-damaging equipment and work processes that are technologically unnecessary," the petition said.
"Plastic producers have a duty to dramatically reduce those threats and EPA has a duty to ensure that they do," said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law, another petitioner.
The petition also outlined several steps to improve air quality in fenceline communities, such as prohibiting the flaring of flammable gases and adopting continues emissions monitoring.
"We have now survived back-to-back chemical explosions along the Gulf Coast, home of the largest petrochemical corridor," said Yvette Arellano, senior staff and policy researcher with the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, another petitioner. "We still don't know the full cost of inhaling the chemical ash and airborne toxics from these fires."