EPA SUED: Pascagoula group files suit against EPA for approving Chevron to turn plastics to fuel

According to Cherokee Concerned Citizens, Cherokee subdivision in Pascagoula, Mississippi is...
According to Cherokee Concerned Citizens, Cherokee subdivision in Pascagoula, Mississippi is considered a cancer hot spot with some households at risk of cancer 3.4 times more than what EPA says is acceptable. Nearby are large industrial plants that have also called Pascagoula home for decades.
Published: Apr. 7, 2023 at 11:29 AM CDT
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PASCAGOULA, Miss. (WLOX) - According to a news release out Friday morning, environmental attorneys have filed a federal lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on behalf of a Pascagoula community group for allowing Chevron to use pyrolysis oil, or pyoil.

Pyrolysis is the process of heating recycled plastic waste down to a reusable gas or fuel. As of November 2022, the refinery is deemed free to do so.

The world produces more than 380 million types of plastic, while about 9,000 pounds of it rest in the landfills each year.

“The EPA approved our using pyrolysis oil,” Chevron said in a statement Thursday. “We safely completed a short trial period about a year ago and fed minor amounts of pyoil, but have not fed any since.”

The Cherokee Concerned Citizens is a group of residents living nearby Cherokee Drive, fighting decades for cleaner air. The neighborhood is located about one mile away from the world’s largest Chevron refinery and among the industry hub.

In February 2023, WLOX reporter Amber Spradley shared the neighbors’ ongoing struggles with air pollution.

“We can’t tolerate it anymore,” resident Barbara Weckesser said. “It’s always been profit over the people, but it must end now. The residents in our community are already at a higher risk of developing health problems because of all the industry polluting our neighborhood. The EPA’s approval of Chevron’s ask is forcing us to fight, leave, or stay here and die.”

Pascagoula residents fight for better air quality.

With support from an environmental law firm called Earthjustice, the neighbors are now taking legal action against the EPA for allowing the facility to turn plastics into ‘five new fuels.’

Earthjustice, a “good lawyer” for the earth, was founded over five decades ago with the mission to help clean up polluted air, raise 100% clean energy, save wildlands and protect species on the brink of extinction.

“EPA’s decision to let Chevron poison the community in Pascagoula with chemicals posing astronomical cancer risks makes a mockery of the agency’s stated commitments to environmental justice,” Earthjustice attorney Katherine O’Brien said. “EPA needs to follow the law and protect people at the fenceline, not greenwash for Chevron by passing off the company’s plastic-waste fuel as a solution to the climate crisis.”

According to the news release from Earthjustice, “the resulting air pollution would pose a cancer risk 250,000 times greater than what the agency typically considers unreasonable...EPA determined that production of Chevron’s new chemicals will pose up to a 1 in 4 cancer risk, meaning 25% of residents living nearby could develop cancer over their lifetime.”

Chevron responded: “The claim is based on EPA’s initial risk screening, which was taken out of context and doesn’t reflect how it would actually be done given the processes and safeguards we use every day at the refinery to ensure we do everything safely or not at all. The EPA’s initial screening is very conservative and doesn’t represent actual risk to our community or employees as if it were actually run in the refinery. We will not process pyoil if it does not meet regulatory emissions requirements. We will not do anything that is unsafe for our workers or our neighboring communities. We will ensure it can be done safely or not at all.”

During the trial period in November 2022 with pyoil running through the refinery, monitoring showed:

  • The refinery functioned normally
  • Emission levels remained normal while processing the pyoil

The company’s statement also read, “Chevron will not make the pyrolysis oil feedstock onsite... We’ve been proud to be a part of the Pascagoula community for 60 years, operating safely, providing energy locally and abroad, and providing for our friends and families. Whatever the future holds for this refinery, we will continue to operate it safely for our workers and our community.”

WLOX News reached out to the EPA for comment on this story, but the agency declined at this time.

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