From Cutting Edge to Commonplace

By Cynthia Giles

I’ve dedicated my career to working with state, local and tribal partners to enforce environmental laws to protect American communities from pollution. Looking back, we’ve come a long way in how we measure for pollution and take action to curb it. Years ago, accounting for air pollution from refineries, for instance, was unreliable and burdensome. It relied in large part on estimates, often done by the refineries themselves, which often undercounted actual emissions and the risks posed to neighbors. In those days, fully understanding refinery emissions would have required taking air samples one-by-one across many potential sources.

Over the past decade, new technologies and innovative solutions have significantly improved our enforcement and compliance efforts. Through EPA’s Next Generation Compliance strategy, we’re building these tools into settlements with companies, pushing their development and implementation in communities across America.

Fenceline monitoring – using advanced technologies to detect emissions crossing over the boundary of facilities and into nearby communities – is one example that is quickly evolving from cutting edge to commonplace. By requiring companies to implement fenceline monitoring and other pollution control practices like flare gas recovery and automated flare efficiency controls (settlements with Flint Hills Resources and Shell Oil Company in Texas are recent examples), enforcement has helped pave the way for their widespread adoption.

Last month, EPA announced a proposal to update toxic air pollution standards for petroleum refineries. For the first time, if finalized, the proposed rule would require monitoring of benzene around the fenceline perimeter of refineries, while also setting performance requirements for flares, among other important provisions. This updated proposal is a major step forward to protect clean air for Americans living near refineries, especially for those living in overburdened communities most affected by pollution.

Through enforcement, we’re able to drive implementation in real-world settings and realize the pollution reduction and cost saving benefits these tools offer. Working with companies to implement changes on the ground demonstrates that these solutions are practical and achievable, and helps show that an updated rule makes sense. Stakeholders across industry, government and non-profit sectors can be confident that it works, because it already is working in the field. This is a model for turning cutting edge ideas into commonplace industry standards.

Today, through Next Gen, EPA is building new innovations into settlements, from solar-powered continuous monitoring to infrared cameras that make invisible emissions visible. The combined effort of enforcement and EPA program offices is helping to turn innovative ideas into industry standards. Together, we’re finding practical solutions to pollution problems that better protect communities.

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