The Mayor of Houston, Texas Bill White wants the Lyondell Chemical Refinery to justify and defend its practice of emitting tons of benzene annually into the air.  (In 2007, the refinery reported emissions of 39 tons, which they proudly noted was below their 58 ton annual cap.)  The Houston Chronicle’s Matthew Tresaugue reports that the Mayor’s office send a 96-page letter to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) requesting a public hearing on Lyondell’s request for a 10-year extension of its toxic air emissions permit.

“The refinery is in the city’s cross hairs because it’s one of the nation’s largest emitters of benzene…  What’s more, it yields more emissions of the toxic chemical per barrel of product than other refineries across the nation.  ‘If the company believes that it’s just fine to put tons and tons of benzene in the air,’ [Mayor] White said in an interview, ‘then we would like to hear what scientific evidence they have that benzene is good for you.'”

In “Mayor takes on giant refinery,” Tresaugue writes:

“[Mayor] White said the he is hopeful that the  hearing would lead state regulators to establish an acceptable limit for benzene.  Texas doesn’t have one, but other states have set such standards.  White also wants the TCEQ to require monitoring of emissions at the plant’s fence line with public disclosure as a condition of every permit.   …the city raised doubts about the accuracy of industry’s emissions estimates, saying that direct measurements showed significant discrepancies.”

In a follow-up editorial, the Houston Chronicle’s editors wrote:

“After years of negotiations to lower the level of toxic emissions by industrial facilities here, Houston Mayor Bill White has seized on a rare opportunity to try to force Lyondell Chemical to defend in court emissions of the carcinogen benzene from its refinery along the Houston Ship Channel.  In nearly three terms in office, the mayor has searched for ways to force industries that produce toxic emissions to accurately report the discharges and utilize new technologies to reduce them.”

“The mayor and his staff deserve credit for taking a tough line against air pollution and for exploring every avenue possible to force industry and state and federal regulators to recognize that current emission standards are inadequate to protect our citizens.”

Readers of The Pump Handle may recognize the Houston Lyondell Chemical refinery as the site of the 30-story crane collapse on July 18 at which four workers–Marion “Scooter” Hubert Odom III, 41, of Highlands; John D. Henry, 33, of Dayton; Daniel “DJ” Lee Johnson, 30, of Dayton; and Rocky Dale Strength, 30, of Santa Fe, Texas—where killed.  The men had been employed by Deep South Crane and Rigging.  Seven other workers were injured in the collapse.  (More on this crane disaster.)  Federal OSHA is investigating the incident and if violations of safety and health standards are identified, the citations and monetary penalties will be issued before January 18, 2009.