Lax oversight allows U.S. refineries to pollute waterways – report

By Erwin Seba

(Reuters) -Weak U.S. water protection rules and federal oversight has allowed dozens of U.S. oil refineries to dump toxic chemicals and metals into the nation’s waterways, the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) said in a report released on Thursday.

The report accuses the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state environmental agencies of failing to regulate 81 U.S. refineries. It admits much of the wastewater released is not a violation of existing law.

“The Agency is aware of this report, and will review and respond accordingly,” said an EPA spokesperson.

“EPA’s failure to act has exposed public waterways to a witches’ brew of refinery contaminants,” the EIP said. The federal agency “is failing in its legal responsibilities to regulate.”

Based on corporate filings with environmental regulators, the refineries discharged “an estimated 60,000 pounds of selenium into waterways in 2021, along with 10,000 pounds of nickel, 15.7 million pounds of nitrogen, and 1.6 billion pounds of chlorides, sulfates, and other dissolved solids,” the Washington-based nonprofit environmental group said.

John Beard, executive director of Texas advocacy group Port Arthur Community Action Network, said that residents of the southeastern Texas town that is home to three refineries, including the nation’s largest, find themselves in a bind between economics and a desire for safe water.

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“Many people say we need the jobs and the products they produce,” Beard said during a news conference. “That’s true. We don’t need the pollution.”

Pollution in waterways across the U.S. Gulf Coast, Midwest and West Coast threaten residents’ health and harm fish, which are a top food source for birds and other animals, EIP said.

The average age of U.S. refineries is 74 years, and many of them have expanded, increasing wastewater discharges, in the past 40 years, while water pollution standards set by the EPA have not been updated, according to the report.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Diane Craft)