Indiana Environmental Group Joins Others In Suing EPA Over Industrial Flares

Nov 6, 2020

Flaring at a chemical plant in Germany, 2016.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

The Hoosier Environmental Council has joined nine other environmental groups in a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency. They say the agency hasn’t reviewed or updated some pollution control standards for industrial flares for decades.

Industrial flares create the flames you see coming off of stacks on industrial buildings. They help get rid of toxic waste gases at places that make things like fertilizer and ethanol or process oil and natural gas.

But the groups said if flaring devices aren’t working properly or don’t have the right technology upgrades, they could be releasing pollution that should have been destroyed. HEC executive director Jesse Kharbanda said that could threaten the health of Hoosiers living downwind of those facilities.

“A lot of the facilities that we have begun exploring that could be subject to these standards are actually found in rural areas, in low income communities in rural areas," he said.

Kharbanda said the BP petroleum refinery in the northwest Indiana city of Whiting has also had problems with flaring excess chemicals in the past.

Thomas Frank is an activist with multiple environmental groups — Calumet Lives Matter, the Community Strategy Group and Indiana 350. He said because Indiana doesn’t usually enact laws stricter than federal ones, public health can get ignored.

Frank said the refinery shouldn’t have been able to move next to lower income residents and communities of color in the historic Marktown neighborhood.

“Over 100 children live right across the street from the stacks and those flares," he said.

Plaintiffs said the EPA is supposed to review the pollution control standards for flares every eight years and update them if necessary. Kharbanda says he hopes the suit will force the EPA to update the standards for industrial flares and improve the health of those communities.

Indiana ranks 6th for most toxic releases into the air, water, and land in the country.

EPA officials declined to comment.

Contact Rebecca at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.