Report: Pruitt’s Air Toxics Loophole Could Mean Sharp Increase in Air Pollution for Houston  

Rollback follows findings that toxic pollution from Hurricane Harvey worse than initially reported

April 10, 2018
Shira Langer, 202-572-3254,


Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) released a new report today that shows the Houston area could see a sharp increase in harmful air pollution under one of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s most recent actions undermining our nation’s clean air laws.

The report looks at Pruitt’s recent reversal of the “once in always in” policy, which creates an ‘Air Toxics Loophole’ by overturning protections against hazardous air pollutants that had been in place for almost a quarter century. The new policy would allow many industrial facilities that are now subject to tough emission standards for “major” sources of pollution to become subject to weaker emission standards, or even avoid federal emission limits altogether.

These standards limit pollutants like benzene, which EPA has classified as a known human carcinogen and is linked to blood disorders and reproductive effects in women, as well as mercury, arsenic, xylene, and toluene, which are linked to effects such as cancer and neurological, gastrointestinal, immune, kidney, and liver impacts. Even though Pruitt’s dramatic change in policy could result in greater emissions of these highly dangerous pollutants, this new “air toxics loophole” was issued without any opportunity for public comment and with no analysis of public health or air pollution impacts.

“The results of our Houston analysis underscores just how reckless Pruitt’s decision to create an Air Toxics Loophole will be for the city’s residents and for Americans that live near industrial facilities all across the country,” said Tomás Carbonell, EDF’s Director of Regulatory Policy. “Administrator Pruitt’s decision to plow ahead despite expert warnings of significant pollution increases, and with no public input and no analysis of health impacts, is unconscionable.”

EDF’s report focuses on the Houston area, which has a large industrial base including two of the nation’s four largest petroleum refineries and more than 400 chemical manufacturing plants. These facilities spew a wide array of cancer-causing and toxic substances like benzene and formaldehyde into the air.

EDF found:

  • At least 18 facilities in Houston are potentially eligible to use Pruitt’s new Air Toxics Loophole, according to recent emissions and regulatory data
  • If all the facilities do use the loophole, their hazardous air pollution could increase to as much as 900,000 pounds (450 tons) - almost two-and-a half times their 2014 levels.
  • On average, almost 20,000 people live within three miles of each facility in this report.
  • A majority of residents living within three miles of these Houston-area facilities are minorities, and over a third live below the federal poverty level.

Recent records also show that these same communities have borne the brunt of a significant amount of toxic pollution released in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, much more than initially reported.

EDF has joined other health and environmental groups in a lawsuit to stop Pruitt’s Air Toxics Loophole.

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