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October 26, 2012
Agency to reconsider PVC NESHAP

The long battle between environmental groups and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) manufacturing plants near Mossville, Louisiana, has moved into the next chapter with EPA’s announcement that it would reconsider its February 2012 final national emissions standard for hazardous air pollutants (NESHAP) affecting the industry. 

“PVC capital”

Mossville is a low-income community that has been termed the “PVC capital of the world” because of the proximity of PVC manufacturing facilities.  In 2002, the EPA issued a NESHAP that was challenged by environmental groups and eventually vacated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which told the Agency to try again.  The 2012 revision expanded the number of specific pollutants the plants would need to control.  The rule also established separate emissions reduction requirements for major and nonmajor sources of air pollutants. 

Neither the PVC facilities nor the environmental groups were satisfied with the 2012 action, and both petitioned the Agency to reconsider aspects of the action while simultaneously filing separate petitions for review with the D.C. Circuit. 

Facilities misunderstood

According to the Vinyl Institute, one of the industry petitioners, the EPA issued its revised NESHAP without proper consideration of key issues, including wastewater criteria for total organic HAPs, vent gas absorbers, bypasses from closed vent systems, pressure relief devices, leak repair on pressure vessels, vapor balancing, and process vents already subject to other regulations.   In its press release, the Vinyl Institute said the deadline imposed by the court-approved settlement with the environmental groups effectively denied the EPA the time it needed to consider these factors properly.  Industry petitioners have also stated that the EPA simply does not understand PVC facility operations and that the Agency does not trust facilities to accurately report their emissions.

GACT and MACT

The counter argument by Earthjustice and Mossville Environmental Action Now is that EPA’s 2012 NESHAP allows several area sources to come into compliance using generally available control technology (GACT).  According to the groups, this contradicts the Agency’s proposal, which stated that all facilities, including area sources, would be required to comply with more stringent maximum achievable control technology (MACT) requirements. 

“Whereas the proposed rule would have reduced emissions of hazardous emissions from area sources by more than 69 tons per year … the final rule will reduce them by less than 25 tons per year collectively, less than half as much,” stated the groups in their petition.  They also complained that the Agency’s action deviates from its commitment to environmental justice by “allowing increased toxic pollution from PVC area sources that exacerbates the adverse impacts of this pollution on people of color and low-income communities.”

In its letters to the petitioners, the EPA states that it will reconsider “at least” claims that the public was not afforded a reasonable opportunity to comment on emissions limits in the final rule for process vents, process wastewater, and stripped resin for major and areas sources.

The Agency adds that it is continuing its review of other issues raised in the petitions and will describe the full scope of its reconsideration in an upcoming Federal Register notice.

EPA’s revised NESHAP for PVC and copolymers production was published in the April 17, 2012, FR

EPA’s decision to reconsider the rule and the items that will be reconsidered is outlined in a letter the Agency sent to Earthjustice and industry petitioners.  . 

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