Environmental Groups Intend to Sue EPA for not Updating Flare Pollutant Regulations

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allegedly has not reviewed control requirements for flares under the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) which it is required to do every eight years according to the Clean Air Act. Environmental groups sent a notice of intent to sue the EPA alleging it has not conducted the reviews since the requirements began in 1986, or at least in the last eight years as is required.

The NSPS establishes specific standards for emission sources. Flares are “pollution control devices” which use combustion to destroy organic pollutants in gas waste. The organizations claimed the General Flare Requirements do not currently represent the best system and need updating. Industries allegedly use the requirements assuming compliance eliminates 98 percent of pollutants, but EPA data finds the efficiency can be 90 percent or lower so emissions are more than five times higher than plants operators and companies anticipate.

The letter was submitted by 10 groups including Clean Air Council, Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), Air Alliance Houston, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Earthworks, Environment America, Environment Texas, Hoosier Environmental Council, PennEnvironment, and Texas Campaign for the Environment.

The EIP says thousands of industrial flares across the country release volatile organic compounds and other pollutants into the environment, harming those who live near the plants.

“Industry studies and EPA’s own research have confirmed that because monitoring is poor or infrequent, vent gas is often assumed to have the required heating value when it does not. And for steam- and air-assisted flares, actual heating values can be much lower in the combustion zone at the flare tip than they are in the vent gas routed to that flare, because operators often add too much steam or air during the combustion process,” the letter states.

The letter alleges that the EPA is aware the General Flare Requirements have shortcomings, citing specific documents and alerts, but it has not taken any action to fix them. The groups announced their intention to file a citizen lawsuit if the EPA does not take action within sixty days.

“At this time when people are more vulnerable to pneumonia from COVID-19 when they are exposed to air pollution, it is unconscionable that the Trump EPA has not done its job and updated these weak and antiquated standards,” said Adam Kron, Senior Attorney for the EIP in a press release.