by Arun and Nakul
Fossil fuel combustion has been an omnipresent, integral aspect of the energy industry. As the health hazards and perilous impacts on the environment caused by the burning of these fuels continue to be exposed, public outcry to re-assess environmental rules and requirements has likewise increased: this past Thursday, numerous environmental organizations took legal action against the federal organization, Environmental Protective Agency (EPA), due to its inaction in updating over 30-year-old regulations regarding an industrial process known as flaring.
What Exactly Is Flaring?
As the EPA defines it, flaring is a “high-temperature oxidation process used to burn combustible components, mostly hydrocarbons, of waste gases from industrial operations”. To boil it down, flaring is performed with the intention of destroying toxic components of various greenhouse gases, in order to abate the dangerous effects they would have on the environment and communities alike. While flaring itself is a well-intentioned practice, activists have been left fuming with the EPA’s lack of recent action to improve flaring regulations. The EPA itself admitted in a 2012 report that when flares have been improperly monitored and used, consequences included lower combustion efficiency – but much more concerning – “potentially significant quantities of excess emissions of volatile organic chemicals, sometimes including various hazardous pollutants”. The last time the EPA updated its rules for the flaring process was in 1986 – the fact that they themselves recently admitted that improper practice of flaring has deadly health impacts, yet have still not changed their regulations whatsoever, is definitely an issue. Attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project (one of the suing organizations), Adam Kron, explained, “At this time when people are more vulnerable to pneumonia from COVID-19 when they are exposed to air pollution, it is unconscionable that the Trump EPA has not done its job and updated these weak and antiquated standards”. He also corroborated the idea that misuse of flares has leads to increased exposure to pollutants, and therefore, respiratory issues.
The EPA has not officially released a response to the potential lawsuit, claiming that it does not respond to intents to sue. However, it can be inferred that the agency does not want to enact any restrictions upon the energy industry amid the massive economic contraction during the pandemic. Why the EPA has not altered flaring regulations for several decades – despite reason to do so – remains a mystery.
The public is reasonably infuriated by the EPA’s lack of action in regard to flaring regulations as the rule hasn’t been touched in over 34 years. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, whose deadliness comes as a result of causing bronchitis and related respiratory illnesses, the public is outraged at the lack of response to mitigate pollution emissions that could cause damage. The Trump Administration has only lifted regulations or eased them during the pandemic, a decision which is proving to be deadly as the months progress.
The lack of response, however, is only the latest of many controversial decisions. In the past few months, the EPA has revoked clean water regulations, mercury regulations, clean air regulations, and fuel efficiency standards. Their decisions seem to revolve around supporting large corporations and the economy over public health and the planet.
The lack of action from the EPA to reduce pollution, a request that it seemingly reasonably, is one that has people wondering where the priorities of the EPA are at. With all the regulations the EPA has removed during the pandemic, only time will tell what the repercussions of their rulings will be.