Health risks linked with toxic air pollution from crude oil refineries are "acceptably low" and don't justify tighter federal rules, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Thursday.
The EPA was required to review its policy on refinery pollutants by a settlement reached in 2006 with environmental groups like the Sierra Club, who had sued the agency in 2005 for missing a 2003 deadline for issuing its review.
In a policy statement, the EPA declined to update refinery emission rules it issued in 1995 because "the risks to human health and the environment are low enough that no further controls are warranted."
Environmental groups said the rules would put the 90 million Americans who live within 30 miles of an oil refinery at increased risk of cancer and other health hazards due to higher exposure to chemicals like naphthalene, toluene and hexane, which the EPA defines as "hazardous air pollutants."
The lifetime cancer risk from exposure to refinery emissions from the proposal - 70 per one million -- is 70 times higher than federal limits, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"We will strongly oppose the Bush administration EPA's do-nothing approach to cancer-causing pollution from oil refineries and urge them to require clean-up measures that will protect the public," said John Walke, an attorney at the environmental group.
The Sierra Club said the EPA was ignoring improvements in emission-reduction equipment since the EPA issued its rules in 1995 to comply with the Clean Air Act.
"The scientific evidence shows that these standards are not protective of public health as required under the Clean Air Act," said Alice McKeown at the Sierra Club.The EPA said the 1995 standards have reduced emissions from refineries nationwide by about 53,000 tons per year.
The rules were a subject of an August 2 meeting at the White House Office of Management and Budget, which included industry representatives from the American Petroleum Institute, American Chemistry Council and the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association.
"We appreciate the collaborative effort with the EPA to ensure that the risk information reviewed was accurate," said Bill Holbrook, a spokesman for the refinery group, which lobbies for big U.S. refiners like Valero Energy Corp.
EPA said it could still require reductions from storage vessels and wastewater treatment plants at refineries, which could reduce toxic air emissions at 153 facilities by up to 4,600 tons per year.
The agency action is the end result of a risk-analysis process the EPA must conduct on refinery emissions every eight years to comply with the Clean Air Act.
The EPA is still weighing separate but related rules proposed in April to expand pollution controls on the nation's aging oil refineries, forcing companies to install emission-reduction equipment if they build or expand.
The EPA has also issued rules governing the amount of cancer-causing benzene in gasoline.