Earthjustice

Photo: © Les Stone/Greenpeace

Faith-Based and Socially Responsible Investors Call on EPA to Strengthen PVC Air Safeguards

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Investors urge EPA to protect environmental justice communities

Photo: © Les Stone/Greenpeace

Washington, DC — Public pressure is mounting for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen toxic air pollution standards at polyvinyl chloride (PVC) chemical plants, especially for two that were singled out for weak standards in a new set of rules that the agency released addressing emissions from nationwide facilities.

The newest action comes from over a dozen faith-based and socially responsible investors in a letter sent to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson today.

Nearly twenty investors, with more than $9.8 billion assets under management, including some who own shares in PVC plants, are calling on the EPA to reconsider the rule. In a letter submitted to EPA today, they write:

“Setting PVC industry emission standards that are weaker than EPA’s initial proposed standards is counterproductive to efforts begun by investors, community groups, and local regulatory officials to reduce the toxic burden in environmental justice communities.”

The latest letter builds on the concerns raised in a July letter signed by 60 national and local environmental health and justice groups and submitted to the EPA. The investor letter also attempts to reinforce the concerns that Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN) presented at the July meeting of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), a federal advisory committee to EPA. All of these efforts reinforce the petition Earthjustice filed in June on behalf of MEAN, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Air Alliance Houston, and Sierra Club in June asking EPA to grant reconsideration and issue a new, stronger air toxics rule without delay.

“As long term investors of persified portfolios we believe strong and consistent protections of public health and welfare are essential to long term economic growth, and in turn the prospects of companies in our portfolios,” said Susan Baker of Trillium Asset Management. “Communities in Mossville and Deer Park have the right to breathe clean air.”

According to the EPA, there are 17 plants in the United States that manufacture PVC resin, and they emit more than 1400 tons of hazardous air pollutants every year. These emissions include more than 270 tons per year of vinyl chloride, a known human carcinogen. They also include benzene, 1,3-butadiene, and dioxins, all of which also are known human carcinogens, as well as probable human carcinogens such as acetaldehyde and formaldehyde. Dioxins are widely considered some of the most toxic chemicals on the planet, targeted for phase-out by 170 nations around the world.

The EPA’s emission standards for the plants in Mossville and Deer Park are especially weak, allowing these plants to emit toxic pollutants at far greater concentrations than other PVC facilities.

While initially proposing to grant these communities at least the same protection as those elsewhere in the U.S., the EPA then decided without warning or any opportunity for public comment to create special categories for these two sources, even though the agency recognized that the plants are similar to and could use the same types of pollution control technologies that are generally available and in use by other PVC facilities.

“We have been shouldering the burden of breathing this poisoned air for much too long, leaving us with unparalleled levels of disease and illness,” said Dorothy Felix of Mossville Environmental Action Now. “Advocates for clean air from all sectors will continue to call on EPA to strengthen these standards because it is clear that our communities were unfairly singled out.”

“Exposing communities to chemicals that cause sickness and cancer is not the way to keep our economy strong,” said Sister Judy Byron of the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment. “These facilities have more than enough money to install protections that would limit the amount of poison people breathe.”

“Our community is continually exposed to cancer-causing pollution from the local PVC plant which spews its chemicals into our neighborhoods, schools and churches,” said Matthew Tejada of Air Alliance Houston. “For an agency committed to environmental justice to set weaker standards for PVC plants in communities that need protection the most is simply unacceptable.”

Here is a map showing the locations of PVC plants nationwide.

Here is emissions data information for all 17 facilities.

Here is the investor letter to EPA (submitted today).

Here is the 60-group letter to EPA (July 17, 2012).

Here is the petition for reconsideration (June 18, 2012) filed by Earthjustice on behalf of MEAN, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Air Alliance Houston, and Sierra Club.

For more information, contact:

Raviya Ismail, Earthjustice, (202) 745-5221; rismail@earthjustice.org

Mike Schade, Center for Health, Environment & Justice, (212) 964-3680; mike@chej.org

Susan Baker, Trillium Asset Management, (617) 532-6681; SBaker@trilliuminvest.com

Mr. Edgar Mouton.  Photo: Jay Burney

RIP Mr. Mouton, an Environmental Justice Hero

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I was recently saddened to learn of the passing of Mr. Edgar Mouton, Jr., a leader and former president of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN).

Mr. Edgar Mouton. Photo: Jay Burney

Mr. Mouton was an inspiration to me as a fighter for environmental justice.

A lifelong resident of Mossville, Louisiana, Mr. Mouton fought passionately and diligently against the PVC plastics and petrochemical industry in his community, which has been spewing poisonous chemicals into the air and water of his community.  Cancer-causing chemicals like dioxin and vinyl chloride.

Words of an environmental justice hero.

Mr. Mouton was humble yet extremely persistent.  He fought for his community for many, many years.  He was outraged by the dioxin and vinyl chloride pollution that was getting into residents’ yards, chickens, homes, and their bodies.  Portions of the community were relocated and demolished due to groundwater contamination from a nearby PVC plant.

He wouldn’t let them get away with this.

In 2000, Mr. Mouton and other leaders from Mossville traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to testify at a US EPA National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) meeting.  At that meeting, he said:

“As I grew up in Mossville, I remember when the plants were built as a child. My father helped build a lot of those plants. It is terrible. We had beautiful green woods around us and we did all the fishing that we ever wanted. But they did not care anything about that. And that is the same thing today.

“People are sick and dying in our community because of the high levels of dioxins found in our blood…We have a lot of people sick. There’s a lot of people with some type of illness, lungs, or some with cancer that I know of. There’s a lot of sick people there that thedoctors don’t know what’s wrong with them.”

“They seem continually to stall, for some reason or another. They give us the impression that we do not know what our needs and wants are. They want to run the show; they want to take control.”

At the same time Mossville residents were seeking justice, the polluters themselves were infiltrating and spying on the community.

From Buffalo to Mossville

Mr. Mouton leading us on a toxic tour. Photo: Jay Burney

I met Mr. Mouton back in 2004 when PVC manufacturer CertainTeed was proposing to build a PVC plant on the Lake Erie waterfront in Buffalo, NY where I lived.  We knew CertainTeed’s primary PVC plant was just outside Mossville, and that’s how I had the pleasure of working with and meeting Mr. Mouton.

I led a delegation of environmental health activists to travel from Buffalo to Mossville, to bear witness to the pollution the PVC plastics industry was leveling on this historic African American community.  Mr. Mouton and other leaders of MEAN welcomed us into their community with open arms, introducing us to families, taking us on toxic tours, holding a joint press conference, and even throwing down with us at a crawfish boil.  You can read about the trip in this newsletter article I wrote back in 2004 (see page 8).

I’ll never forget that trip visiting Mr. Mouton, Mossville and the Lake Charles area.  It stays with me every day.

Broken promises, and the struggle continues.

“Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.” – Mother Jones

I’ve always been inspired by these words of Mother Jones.  And I like to think that Mr. Mouton would agree.  He’d want to see the struggle continue, until justice is served.

Over 12 years since Mr. Mouton spoke out at that meeting in Atlanta, and over 8 years since I traveled to Mossville to go on a toxic tour around CertainTeed and Mossville, CertainTeed is on the minds of Mossville residents once again.

“We’re being hit from the north, south, east, and west. Every time the wind changes, we get a lungful of pollution from some other plant. These chemicals end up in our water, our gardens, our children’s bodies. Each day we hear about someone in our community being diagnosed with cancer or another illness. We’re taking legal action so that we might live to see some improvements for ourselves and our community.” – Mr. Mouton, former President of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN)

Over the past decade, MEAN, Earthjustice and other groups have taken EPA to court numerous times, and won! As a result of their work, the EPA  agreed and promised to clamp down on pollution from PVC chemical plants like CertainTeed in Mossville.

Unfortunately, the EPA has now broken their promises to this community, which flies in the face of the EPA’s commitment to environmental justice.  The EPA has set stronger emission standards for PVC plants in other communities, but weaker ones in Mossville, home to more than PVC plants than anywhere else in the country!

That’s why this week, MEAN, Earthjustice, the Louisiana Environmental Action Network and other groups are fighting back once again.  They’ve filed a petition and lawsuit demanding EPA reduce toxic pollution from the CertainTeed plant.

“After years of work to obtain the stronger air protection we need in Mossville, Louisiana, it was a shock to our community when EPA suddenly changed course and singled us out for weaker standards as compared to the rest of the nation.  EPA should stay true to its commitment to environmental justice and correct this unfairness by setting stronger air pollution limits that will protect our health as we and all Americans deserve.”- Dorothy Felix, President of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN)

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson owes this community justice.  She owes it to Mr. Mouton’s family.

RIP Mr. Mouton.  We will miss and never forget you.   The struggle continues.

Photo: © Les Stone/Greenpeace

EPA Rule Leaves Gulf Coast Communities Burdened With More Toxic Pollution

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Community groups’ lawsuit challenges EPA’s weakened protections against toxic air pollution from Polyvinyl Chloride facilities

Washington, DC — When Dorothy Felix of Mossville, Louisiana, learned that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was going to finally cut  toxic pollution from the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plant nearby, she rejoiced.  But after EPA reversed its plan to protect the community in the final rule, she and others in the Mossville community who breathe in the plant’s toxic fumes must restart a decade-long effort to get these basic limits on toxic air pollution.

Photo: © Les Stone/Greenpeace

Represented by the public interest law firm Earthjustice, Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN), Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), Air Alliance Houston, and Sierra Club have filed a lawsuit today to challenge the weaker protections as unlawful and arbitrary.  The groups also filed a petition asking EPA administrator Lisa Jackson to reconsider her decision voluntarily.

“After years of work to obtain the stronger air protection we need in Mossville, Louisiana, it was a shock to our community when EPA suddenly changed course and singled us out for weaker standards as compared to the rest of the nation,” said Dorothy Felix of MEAN. “EPA should stay true to its commitment to environmental justice and correct this unfairness by setting stronger air pollution limits that will protect our health as we and all Americans deserve.”

According to the EPA, there are 17 plants in the United States that manufacture polyvinyl chloride (PVC) resin, and they emit more than 1400 tons of hazardous air pollutants every year.  These emissions include more than 270 tons per year of vinyl chloride, a known human carcinogen.  They also include benzene, 1,3-butadiene, and dioxins, all of which also are known human carcinogens, as well as probable human carcinogens such as acetaldehyde and formaldehyde.

The EPA’s emission standards for the plants in Mossville, Louisiana and Deer Park, Texas are especially weak, allowing these plants to emit toxic pollutants at far greater concentrations than other PVC facilities. In an about-face, the EPA decided without warning to create special categories for these two sources, even though the agency recognized that the pollution is similar to and could use the same types of pollution control technologies that are generally available and in use by other PVC facilities.

“Just across the highway from the local PVC facility are neighborhoods, two high schools, an elementary school, youth sports fields and churches but no air monitors to help protect the health of the people who live there,” said Matthew Tejada, of Air Alliance Houston. “For the EPA to fail to set strong regulations for such facilities which emit cancer-causing pollution is stupefying.”

“For far too long, the vinyl plastics industry has released staggering levels of vinyl chloride, dioxin and other toxic pollutants into surrounding communities,” said Mike Schade, Campaign Coordinator with the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ). “Mossville is surrounded by more vinyl manufacturers than anywhere else in the country.  This community should receive the greatest, not the weakest, protection.  Shame on EPA for issuing weaker standards for this community, which has been overburdened with toxic pollution for much too long.”

Although the agency claimed legal authority to issue weaker standards for these two plants, it did not address the need for stronger public health protection in its decision.  Notably, the owners of both plants have billions of dollars in revenue each year, according to the EPA, and could afford to clean up their toxic emissions at least to the same level as the rest of the industry.

“EPA’s decision to allow so much more toxic pollution into American communities is disturbing,” said Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew. “It is hard to see how this rule honors the agency’s longstanding commitments to protect community health and provide environmental justice, particularly in the Gulf region.  We hope Administrator Jackson will consider the consequences of her decision on the residents of Mossville, Deer Park, and other American communities and set the protective standards they need.”

Here is a map showing the locations of PVC plants nationwide.

Here is emissions data information for all 17 facilities.

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