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California hearing set on tough oil refinery rules

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Environmental Protection Agency is coming to one of the nation's largest petroleum-producing areas to hold public hearings on a proposal aimed at reducing toxic air pollution from California to Texas through tough new controls on oil refineries.

The daylong hearing set for Wednesday will be held at a community center in Wilmington, a blue-collar section of Los Angeles that is dotted by more than 6,000 oil-pumping rigs and is home to three of California's major oil refineries.

The 9-square mile area with 53,000 residents also includes the third-largest oil field in the contiguous United States.

To be discussed is an 870-page proposal that would order the petroleum industry to adopt new technology to better monitor benzene emissions, upgrade storage tank emission controls and ensure waste gases are properly destroyed.

Operators would also have to make the results of their monitoring publicly available.

EPA officials say the requirements would reduce toxic air emissions from refineries by an estimated 5,600 tons a year.

Environmentalists say the restrictions are needed to safeguard public health. Industry officials counter that the measures are unnecessary.

The proposal is the result of a consent decree that resolved a lawsuit brought in 2012 by the environmental groups Earthjustice and Environmental Integrity Project on behalf of people directly affected by emissions from refineries in Louisiana, Texas and California.

The action accused the EPA of shirking its responsibility under the Clean Air Act by neglecting to review and possibly revise refinery emission standards every three years. The EPA hasn't implemented new emission standards since 1995.

Earthjustice also says blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately affected by toxic emissions because they tend to live near refineries in greater numbers than whites. Wilmington is more than 85 percent Hispanic.

The EPA plans a second hearing on the proposed rule changes in Houston later this year, as well as a 60-day period for public comment before taking any action.

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