A bill that would make industrial plants with multiple violations pay for additional air pollution monitoring made it out of a Louisiana House committee Wednesday with overwhelming support from committee members.
House Bill 486 would require industrial facilities to install air monitors around fence lines after racking up three permit violations within two years.
Sponsored by Rep. Patrick Connick, R-Marrero, the legislation would cover facilities considered “major sources” of air pollution. The type of fence-line air monitoring would collect results in “real time,” meaning they would be available immediately instead of being collected for later analysis.
If pollution is detected above a certain health standard, permit level or air quality standard, that information would then be sent to the public, possibly in a text message or phone call.
Connick represents an area where a motor oil recycling facility, Vertex Energy, has raised the ire of local residents for air pollution releases and odor complaints. Officials with Vertex have said the company made significant upgrades since the facility was purchased in 2014 and has reached out to residents.
Retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, of the Green Army environmental coalition, said the bill is about providing people with information when they smell something in the air.
“By the time the inspector gets there, the cloud has moved on through,” Honoré said.
Industry representatives from the Louisiana Chemical Association, Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association and the Louisiana Electric Utility Environmental Group said they oppose the bill because it is unnecessary as there already are safety measures in place. If a community is dealing with a “bad apple,” those individual companies could always be taken to court, the industry representatives told the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment.
Costs of the proposal varied widely, with environmental groups estimating the cost to a facility would be about $250,000 and industry representatives saying it could grow to be $500,000 to even $1 million.
“Our LCA members spend literally millions on safety,” said Robert Schromm, manager of governmental affairs at the Louisiana Chemical Association.
In addition, he said the fence-line monitoring technology is flawed, can cause panic for people unaccustomed to looking at air monitoring results and is better handled by the internal monitoring facilities use.
But some legislators questioned that logic. “So what you’re saying is these (monitoring) systems are good for the inside but not for the outside (of the facility)?” asked Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley.
Emory Belton, representing the utility environmental group, said there is no evidence that the fence-line monitoring approach is needed or that it will help protect people. If there are continuing problems the state Department of Environmental Quality isn’t addressing, he said, “the courts are there.”
Rep. Rodney Lyons, D-Harvey, said the amended bill would require only that the monitoring to be installed, at company expense, when a company continued to violate an air permit. “I don’t see where that can be called attacking an industry,” Lyons said. “All people are looking for is an opportunity to find out what’s coming over their heads and into their homes.”
The committee voted to approve the bill with only one dissenting vote from Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro.
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