Caroline Selle

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Caroline is a freelance writer focusing on race, class, gender, and the environment. A 2012 graduate of St. Mary’s College of Maryland, she wrote her senior thesis on the Keystone XL. Caroline has worked for the US Climate Action Network, the Global Campaign for Climate Action, the American Wind Energy Association, and the Energy Action Coalition. Currently, she blogs about her ethical living experiments at

Environmental Justice Groups Sue EPA for Failure to Enforce Clean Air Act

Despite several studies suggesting toxic emissions from refineries are underestimated, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continually failed to review and revise emissions factors for health and life-threatening pollutants.

Now, five environmental justice groups are suing the agency for failure to comply with the Clean Air Act. The groups, the Environmental Integrity Project, Air Alliance Houston, Texas Environmental Advocacy Services (TEJAS), Community In-power and Development Association, Inc. (CIDA), and Louisiana Bucket Brigade, assert that EPA failures are leading to undue health and safety risks for the Gulf Area population.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA Administrator is required to review and (if necessary) revise the emissions factors used to estimate emissions of carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) from emission sources at least once every three years. However, according to the notice of intent preceding the lawsuit, “EPA has not reviewed emission factors for flares since 1991,” for wastewater treatment systems since 1998, and emission equations for tanks since 2006.

Said TEJAS executive director Juan Parras, “EPA needs to protect public health and the environment, and there are no excuses to further delay long overdue action to revise inaccurate emission factors consistent with scientific studies.”

Is Houston a Tar Sands “Sacrifice Zone”?

This is a guest post by Caroline Selle

Much of the debate around the Keystone XL pipeline has focused on the dangers of extracting and transporting the tar sands. Left out, however, are those in the United States who are
guaranteed to feel the impacts of increased tar sands usage. Spill or no spill, anyone living near a tar sands refinery will bear the burden of the refining process.

Tar sands oil is produced from a mixture of sand, clay, water, and the sticky, peanut-butter like form of petroleum known as bitumen. Unlike conventional crude, it’s essentially solid at room temperature, has a higher heavy metal content, and has to be diluted for transport. The diluents are trade secrets, and the content mixture - which often contains benzene, a human carcinogen - isn’t something companies are required to report.

DeSmogBlog has covered the impacts of tar sands extraction on indigenous communities, and the dangers of moving tar sands through a network of pipelines is aptly covered here. And while major nonprofits have completed studies on the dangers of transporting tar sands, there is significantly less information available on how refining tar sands differs from processing conventional crude.

Additional heavy metals and benzene might sound like a recipe for disaster anywhere, but the location of several major tar sands refineries is already overburdened with pollutants. In Harris County, Texas – home to the city of Houston – people are already surrounded by refineries and factories spewing toxic pollution into the air. And as the southern leg of the Keystone XL project slowly fills in its missing pieces, the spectre of toxic bitumen looms.

New Report, “Cooking the Books,” Highlights State Department’s Keystone XL Miscalculations

Cooking the Books Oil Change International

This is a guest post by Caroline Selle

A new report from Oil Change International, provides new evidence that, if built, the Keystone XL pipeline will have a devastating impact on the global climate.

The major findings of Cooking the Books: How the State Department Analysis Ignores The True Climate Impact of the Keystone XL Pipeline include:

• If constructed and operated as planned, the Keystone XL will “carry and emit at least 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each year.”

• The Keystone XL would result in emissions of 6.34 billion metric tons of CO2e between 2015 and 2050.

To put those numbers in context, here are some additional figures. 181 million metric tons of CO2 is equivalent to the tailpipe emissions of more than 37.7 million cars. It’s also the equivalent of half of Spain’s total CO2 emissions for 2008, when Spain was the 19th highest emitting country in the world.

6.34 billion metric tons of CO2 is greater than the 2011 total annual carbon dioxide emissions of the United States. It’s also greater than the 2008 CO2 emissions of Russia, India, Japan, Canada, and Germany combined.