Earlier this week, the Supreme Court sided with environmental advocates. Industrial polluters were looking for an exemption from regular emissions standards during "startup, shutdown and malfunction" events.
The groups that brought the case - Sierra Club, Environmental Integrity Project, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Friends of Hudson and Liberty Hill grantee partner Coalition for a Safe Environment - said they acted to protect their members and others who live in communities that host industrial facilities.
The loophole's potential for abuse was on display on September 25, 2009, when a fire was caused by a malfunction at the Tesoro Energy Corp's refinery in Wilmington, California which produces gasoline, jet fuel, diesel fuels, petroleum coke and fuel oil.
The fire burned for more than six hours, emitting fumes into the atmosphere.
Jesse Marquez, executive director for the Coalition for a Safe Environment, lives three miles from the Tesoro refinery. He was at the scene of the incident and said the malfunction began at 6 am and for hours a noxious smell of crude oil and diesel fuel fumes filled the air.
Tesoro notified the elementary school a mile away but did not inform residents. Not only did residents contend with poisonous emissions, the fire left soot on peoples' cars and homes. The refinery eventually paid for the cost of cleaning homes and cars but did not reveal what public health risks occurred as a result of exposure to these pollutants.
Along with the Tesoro refinery, Wilmington hosts ConocoPhillips and Valero refineries.
"Almost every week a refinery has a malfunction and equipment break down and almost every year there is a fire," said Marquez. "Each of these refineries exposes our children to hundreds of tons of toxic pollutants every year. I am pleased with the Supreme Court's decision because we need strict rules to regulate refineries and they must be held accountable when their violations of emission standards put the public in harm's way."
Jesse Marquez, Coalition for a Safe Environment