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Louisianans Demand Action from U.S. EPA

NEW ORLEANS (CN) - A neighborhood organization says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has blown off their complaints about a polluting Murphy Oil refinery in St. Bernard Parish. They asked a federal judge to compel EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to respond to their objections to the Murphy Oil refinery in Meraux, La.

Concerned Citizens Around Murphy says that "an objection by the [EPA] administrator would result in reduced air pollution from the refinery, alleviating some of the air pollution that injures Concerned Citizens' members."

The say Jackson is far past her deadline to respond to their repeated objections to the refinery's operating permits, and want her ordered to perform her nondiscretionary function "to respond to petitions, such as the one Concerned Citizens filed, under Clean Air Act."

The pollution is so bad, Concerned Citizens says, that it "causes them to curtail outdoor activities."

The Meraux Murphy Oil Refinery processes 125,000 barrels of oil a day.

In 2005, during the massive levee failure and subsequent flooding of St. Bernard Parish after Hurricane Katrina, the Murphy Oil Refinery was covered in up to 18 feet of water. During the flood, a 250,000-barrel above ground storage tank was dislodged, lifted and broke open. The tank contained 65,000 barrels of mixed crude oil, and released more than 25,000 barrels - more than 1 million gallons.

The pressure of the high water kept the oil inside the tank until the waters receded. As the oil was released from the tank, it flowed along the flood waters from east to west. The released oil affected somewhere around 1700 homes in Chalmette, and several canals.

In late September this year, Murphy Oil said it would pay Louisiana $395,000 and spend at least $1.5 million to cover two wastewater tanks at its Meraux refinery as part of a settlement agreement.

The company faces $1.25 million in civil fines for violations at its Louisiana and Wisconsin facilities. The EPA announced during news of the settlement agreement that Murphy will spend more than $142 million to install upgraded pollution reduction equipment at the refineries, as well as emissions data from monitoring stations. Hazardous emissions blamed on the refinery's poor emissions monitoring standards include sulfur dioxide, a prime contributor to acid rain and asthma.

Concerned Citizens says it objected to the refinery's operating permits in August, October and December 2009, and that the EPA is long past its deadline to respond.

Local news outlets and environmental watchdogs have reported numerous problems at the plant recently, including sulfur dioxide emissions, a "white fallout" after a steam release, and oil and gas spills.

Concerned Citizens asks the court to order Jackson to act on their petitions within 30 days. They are represented by Corinne Van Dalen with the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic.

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