U.S. plans surprise inspections to protect communities burdened by pollution

FILE PHOTO: Exxon’s U.S. oil refineries pump out more soot than rivals’ plants
A view of the ExxonMobil Baton Rouge Refinery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S., May 15, 2021.
REUTERS/Kathleen Flynn

The U.S. government on Wednesday announced a program of surprise pollution checks at petrochemical plants and other facilities under a Biden administration drive to protect the environment in nearby communities, which often are poor and have minority populations.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan ordered unannounced inspections at facilities that are suspected of being out of compliance with air and water regulations.

In the spring, a new project called the Pollution Accountability Team will strengthen enforcement of environmental regulations at the community level by combining in-person inspections and air and ground monitoring technologies, he said.

Regan, who visited polluted communities in southern states in November, said the new federal measures were long overdue.

“Residents have suffered far too long and local, state, and federal agencies have to do better,” he said.

In April, Regan directed the agency’s offices to sharpen their focus on tackling environmental injustices by strengthening enforcement against polluter, engaging with and investing in pollution-burdened communities and other measures.

The agency recently announced $20 million in grants to communities to help them monitor their air for pollutants and proposed new ways to measure the risk posed by certain pollutants, such as cancer-linked ethylene oxide, to communities that border facilities.

The agency plans initiatives in some areas Regan visited in November. For example, the Pollution Accountability Team will launch a pilot air monitoring project in Louisiana’s “cancer alley,” which is home to numerous petrochemical plants.