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California hearing addresses oil refinery rules

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FILE - This July 6, 2006 file photo shows the ConocoPhillips Los Angeles Refinery in operation. The Environmental Protection Agency is coming to one of the nation's largest petroleum producing areas to hold public hearings, Wednesday, July 16, 2014 on a proposal officials say would reduce toxic air pollution from California to Texas through tough new controls on oil refineries. (AP Photo/Ric Francis,File)

FILE – This July 6, 2006 file photo shows the ConocoPhillips Los Angeles Refinery in operation. The Environmental Protection Agency is coming to one of the nation’s largest petroleum producing areas to hold public hearings, Wednesday, July 16, 2014 on a proposal officials say would reduce toxic air pollution from California to Texas through tough new controls on oil refineries. (AP Photo/Ric Francis,File)

LOS ANGELES — Residents of modest neighborhoods near three of the largest oil refineries in California called on the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday to crack down on plant emissions, saying the pollution is choking their children and endangering their health.

The residents of the oil-rich Wilmington area of Los Angeles were among a dozen speakers to address an EPA hearing about a proposed rule requiring stricter emission controls and monitoring standards for refineries.

Several speakers said they have suffered from asthma and other ailments they believe were caused by the refineries near the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Evelyn Knight, who said she has lived in Long Beach since 1968, said she wouldn’t be satisfied until refinery pollution was reduced to zero in her community.

“My own family suffers from asthma,” she said. “I had a brother die from lung cancer who never smoked. Many friends have come down with cancer.”

Several representatives of the petroleum industry said their biggest concern is the safety of workers and the surrounding community, and they believe they are doing a good job under current regulations. They told the three-member EPA panel conducting the hearing that the proposed changes would be costly and unnecessary.

“Air quality in the United States has improved significantly, continues to improve, and our industry is doing its part to contribute to the success,” said Howard Feldman, director of regulatory and scientific affairs for the American Petroleum Institute.

The daylong hearing at a community center was expected to continue into the evening.

The Wilmington area has more than 6,000 oil-pumping rigs and is home to three of California’s major oil refineries. The 9-square-mile area with 53,000 residents also includes the third-largest oil field in the contiguous United States.

Under discussion was an 870-page proposal that would order the petroleum industry to adopt new technology to better monitor benzene emissions, upgrade storage tank emission controls and ensure waste gases are properly destroyed.

Operators would also have to make the results of their monitoring publicly available.

EPA officials say the requirements would reduce toxic air emissions from refineries by an estimated 5,600 tons a year.

The proposal came from the resolution of a lawsuit brought in 2012 by the environmental groups Earthjustice and Environmental Integrity Project on behalf of people directly affected by emissions from refineries in Louisiana, Texas and California.

The action accused the EPA of shirking its responsibility under the Clean Air Act by neglecting to review and possibly revise refinery emission standards every three years. The EPA has not implemented new emission standards since 1995.

Earthjustice also says blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately affected by toxic emissions because they tend to live near refineries in greater numbers than whites. Wilmington is more than 85 percent Hispanic.

The EPA plans a second hearing on the proposed rule changes in Houston later this year, as well as a 60-day period for public comment before taking any action.

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