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Residents in Louisiana's ‘Cancer Alley’ push for stricter emissions standards

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, left, embraces Robert Taylor, head of Concerned Citizens of St. John the Baptist Parish. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)

By Terry L. Jones for Floodlight and the Louisiana Illuminator

Black residents living in the industry-heavy communities along the Mississippi River dubbed “Louisiana’s Cancer Alley” are now pushing the federal government’s Environmental Protection Agency to make more stringent updates to its guidelines that regulate facilities emitting hazardous chemicals.

They want the EPA to mandate that all petrochemical and manufacturing facilities governed under the Clean Air Act have fenceline air monitors to track emissions levels, limit their excessive flaring events, install systems to detect chemical leaks and close certain loopholes around provisions that allow increased emissions releases during extreme weather events such as hurricanes.

Their push comes shortly after the EPA recently announced it was dropping its investigation into a civil rights complaint filed on behalf of residents of St. John the Baptist and St. James parishes. It asserted the state failed to protect the local community from years of toxic air emissions from nearby petrochemical plants and manufacturing facilities.

Updating the National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) provisions within the Clean Air Act to address some of the concerns raised in the civil rights complaint was one of the solutions the EPA noted in its announcement to drop its investigation.

“We’re expecting them to actually act on what they can control, which is making these rules as strong as they possibly can be to protect us,” said Jo Banner, a community activist and St. John the Baptist resident. “We now, more than ever, expect the EPA to step up to the plate. They have the power to make the laws appropriately as strong as they need to be.”

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