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In response to pressure from CHEJ and a coalition of environmental health and justice groups, EPA announced they are revisiting their weak air toxics standards for polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plants! This is great news for environmental justice communities in Louisiana, Texas, and around the country. This past summer CHEJ coordinated a national letter to EPA that was signed by 60 local, state and national organizations concerned about EPA’s inadequate air regulations. This followed a legal petition filed by Earthjustice, Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN), Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Air Alliance Houston, and Sierra Club. Dorothy Felix, President of MEAN had this to say about the victory: “This is a strong step forward in Administrator Lisa Jackson’s commitment to environmental justice. Now, we are counting on the EPA to propose a new rule that limits air pollution for everyone affected by PVC plants, including our community.”
In a sudden change of position, the EPA has reversed its plan to strengthen the air quality standards in Mossville, and instead created a new category for the PVC plants polluting this community. The community has been fighting for years to strengthen the air quality standards to levels that exist in other states. In response, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against this shocking decision on behalf of Mossville Environmental Action Now, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Air Alliance Houston, and Sierra Club. CHEJ also coordinated a national sign-on letter in support of this effort asking EPA to reconsider its decision and issue a new, stronger air toxics rule without delay. The letter, delivered to EPA and its National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), was signed by CHEJ and 60 national and local environmental health and justice groups from around the country.
In Memory of Edgar Mouton Edgar Mouton, President of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN) and renowned environmental justice advocate, passed away in June of this year. A lifelong resident of Mossville, Louisiana, Edgar Mouton fought passionately and diligently against the PVC plastics and petrochemical industry that had spewed poisonous chemicals like dioxin and vinyl chloride into the air and water of his community. Mr. Mouton was humble yet extremely persistent. He dedicated 30 years of his life to revealing the injustice of favoring the interests of industry over humanity. He worked tirelessly to hold the oil and chemical industries accountable, to get federal Superfund designation, and to reclaim the health of his people. Edgar Mouton will be sorely missed.
Congratulations to the residents of Mossville who won a landmark decision to have an international human rights commission hear their case of environmental racism against the United States. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (OAS) has agreed to determine if actions taken by the U.S. government were a violation of human rights. The suit was filed by Advocates for Environmental Human Rights (AEHR) on behalf of the residents of Mossville. “I am grateful that the commission decided to take our human rights case,” said Dorothy Felix, Vice-President of Mossville Environmental Action Now. “We believe that environmental protection should not be based on the color of our skin. Our government can and must do better to protect our human rights.” AEHR is hopeful that the decision by OAS will be a foundation for protecting this and other vulnerable communities in the future.
Residents of Mossville are pleased with the EPA’s decision to finally crack down and place a substantial limit on all toxic chemicals released from PVC plants. This is a huge victory for Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN), the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, and Earth Justice along with various environmental coalitions, who support limiting plant emissions as the only way to prevent the chemicals from these plants from damaging the health of the community. “We live among chemicals that leach into our water, our food, and our children’s bodies,” said Edgar Mouton, a retired chemical plant employee and leader of MEAN. This is a huge stepping stone for preventing harm to future generations of residents in communities situated near PVC plants.
David Prince, Environmental Justice Leader, Dies in Tragic House Fire
CHEJ was deeply saddened to learn of the death of David Prince, a leader and advocate for environmental justice and human rights, who, along with his wife, battled pollution from PVC chemical plants in Mossville. Tragically, Mr. Prince died on August 11th from a fire that destroyed his home as a result of an inadequate number of fire hydrants in Mossville, a community surrounded by fourteen hazardous industrial facilities, several of which routinely report accidental releases of flammable materials. Mr. Prince traveled abroad to advocate for an international environmental human rights treaty and confronted companies and governmental agencies for the environmental damage to his beloved community of Mossville. Advocates for Environmental Human Rights is accepting donations on behalf of the David Prince Memorial Fund, which is dedicated to continuing the advocacy work by Mossville Environmental Action Now. For more information visit http://www.ehumanrights.org/.
Save Lake Peigneur wants to stop AGL Resources of Georgia from expanding its natural gas storage facility below Lake Peigneur in Jefferson Island. The group is concerned about the safety of doubling the size of the facility and increasing the massive amounts of highly pressurized natural gas that would be stored in the middle of a community of 5,000 people. Another major issue is the 9 billion gallons of fresh drinking water AGL needs to create more gas storage. The expansion would also result in dredging portions of the lake which residents say will stir up pollutants that have settled on the bottom of the lake and will impact fish and other wildlife. CHEJ is working with the group leaders on tactics and strategies.
The Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) in Baton Rouge is fighting a proposed NPDES permit that would enable oil and gas companies to discharge “produced” water and other oil and gas waste streams into Louisiana territorial seas without regard to concentrations or cumulative effects of toxic and radioactive substances. Produced waters, which include radioactive waste, toxic waste, drilling mud and oil, is the largest waste stream generated by oil and gas facilities, and has been found to be toxic to aquatic biological communities and hazardous to human health. “We count on LDEQ to protect the public’s health and our natural resources,” stated Marylee Orr, Exective Director of LEAN. “This proposed permit puts Louisiana’s ecosystem, our way of life and our health at risk.”
Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in October on behalf of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN), the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), and the Sierra Club asking the federal government to regulate the many toxic chemicals released from chemical plants that use vinyl chloride to manufacture PVC, the poison plastic. These plants release more than 500,000 pounds of vinyl chloride, a known human carcinogen, as well as other toxic chemicals into the air each year. Residents in Mossville, the unofficial PVC capitol of America with four PVC plants, have been fighting the EPA to regulate emissions from these plants for over 10 years. Now they are hoping that legal action will be effective.
Concerned Citizens Around Murphy (CCAM) put Murphy Oil U.S.A., Inc. on notice this July of their intent to sue over the refinery’s violations of the federal Clean Air Act. Murphy Oil’s Meraux refinery has released tons of sulfur dioxide and other chemicals into the air in excess of federal permit limits. St. Bernard Parish residents are concerned for their safety and about the health effects these releases might cause. CCAM wants the state to enforce its regulations to improve the air quality in their community. CCAM was formed in the aftermath of a crude oil spill at the Murphy Oil site caused by Hurricane Katrina.
A local leader in St. Charles Parish who is challenging the Parish Council over accepting contaminated land donated by BP (formerly British Petroleum) to build a library has been hit with a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) suit. The activists believe the suit was filed to stop the efforts of an emerging local group opposed to the construction of a public library on the polluted land. Organizers feel this is an effort to divert attention away from the real issue and vow to continue their efforts calling for an extensive cleanup before any construction on the library begins.
Activists in St. Charles Parrish are leery of a donation of land by British Petroleum (BP) that is targeted for a new library. The group wants the library, but they don’t want it built on contaminated soil. The site was once the location of a BP refinery. The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality evaluated test results from the site and determined that the property was suitable for use as a public library and many other non-residential land uses. CHEJ’s review of the data found that the testing was limited and insufficient to evaluate the risks posed by the site. CHEJ has encouraged the activists to organize and get others involved to address this situation. What started as a $3 million renovation of an existing building has escalated into the $8 million construction of a new building on contaminated land. Activists have documented a clear case of violations, but the vote to move the project to the next step is up to the Parrish Council the latest target of the group’s organizing efforts.
In Chalmette this July, residents, also known as the Marietta Gang, demanded that the CEO of Murphy Oil create a cleanup plan for their neighborhood, which was affected by a million gallon oil spill. Though Murphy Oil has settled with the families, the company refuses to clean up every yard in the spill area, leaving some yards with persistent oil deposits. Murphy Oil claims it has cleaned up based on soil samples tested by a private company, the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health. However, many believe the tests were not comprehensive. Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade said, “Murphy’s soil sample results give absolutely no assurance of health and safety. The people have a right to demand a cleanup.”
The United Steelworkers (USW) union and the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice are teaming up to form a progressive partnership to rebuild parts of New Orleans that are still in shambles well over 6 months since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. Through the “Safe Way Back Home” initiative, USW hopes to lend their expertise to help address one of the most pressing problems facing New Orleans: toxic soil. “Others have done a lot of work in the last 30 plus years to divide labor and environmentalists and its been hard work to break down the barriers,” said Jim Fredericks, Assistant Director of the Health, Safety and Environment Dept. at USW. “We share more than we differ and we truly need to continue to find our common initiatives.”
Delegates from south Louisiana and southeast Texas convened in April in a first of its kind gathering, bringing neighbors of polluting facilities together to discuss solutions to the post-Katrina pollution explosion. Twenty-five community leaders attended from New Orleans East, Baton Rouge, and Texas. Enormous amounts of hazardous hurricane waste have been dumped – often illegally – and relaxed pollution standards post-Katrina have put communities that were already in harm’s way in even more danger.
The St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade presented ExxonMobil with the first post Katrina community-refinery collaborative plan for St. Bernard Parish. The four-point plan proposes that the refinery create a voluntary buyout program for homes within a certain proximity to the plant, establish a buffer zone between the refinery and residential areas, install a siren warning system, and phase out the use of hydrofluoric acid in favor of a safer, modified alternative. “We’re not asking the company to do anything that has not been done successfully in many other areas of the state as well as the country,” said Ken Ford of St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality. ExxonMobil has yet to respond to the proposed plan.