Natural Gas Plants May Soon Start Reporting Toxic Releases, Thanks to Citizen Petition

Natural gas processing plants – which convert raw natural gas into useable fuel – have long avoided reporting their toxic pollution releases to federal agencies. This may soon change following a civil suit brought by the Center for Effective Government (CEG) and other public interest and environmental organizations.

Natural gas extraction and production release toxic chemicals like benzene and toluene that are known to cause cancer and reproductive health issues. Communities have a right to know if they are being exposed to these poisons.

Yet the industry is largely exempt from reporting to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Toxic Release Inventory (TRI). TRI is an important tool that provides the public with information on the types and amounts of toxic chemicals being released into the air, water, and soil. Certain industrial facilities are required to report their toxic emissions annually to TRI.

In October 2012, CEG joined a petition urging EPA to include the oil and gas extraction industry in TRI.

EPA failed to respond to the petition, so in January 2015, CEG joined a coalition of nine organizations in a lawsuit to force EPA to respond to the petition. A federal court put the litigation on hold in April 2015 after EPA confirmed it would respond to the petition by Oct 30, 2015.

This week, EPA finally responded by confirming it will partially grant the petition by issuing a rulemaking to add natural gas processing plants to TRI. EPA will not, however, seek to add smaller facilities (those employing fewer than 10 people) and other infrastructure like well sites, pipelines, and compressor stations.

(Note that a commitment to a rulemaking is not a commitment to issuing a final rule; EPA will receive public comment on a proposed rule that must be considered in developing a final rule.)

Natural gas plants would be the first industry group added to the TRI in almost 20 years – a major victory for public and environmental health.

The proposed rule would expand TRI to cover hundreds of natural gas processing plants that meet the thresholds for reporting benzene, formaldehyde, and other toxic chemicals. If it is finally implemented, people living near processing plants will soon know what chemicals they might be exposed to – something the American people thought they were promised thirty years ago when Congress passed the 1986 Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act

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