President Bill Clinton's administration is considering rewriting the nation's environmental laws because of a three-year study on how best to clean up pollution at a small Amoco Corp. refinery in Yorktown.
The study was conducted jointly by Amoco and the Environmental Protection Agency. Researchers found that federal regulations forced the refinery to solve relatively minor pollution threats at major expense - but that far more important problems were overlooked.
Specifically, Amoco was required under a change in the Clean Air Act to spend $31 million to rebuild the refinery's waste-water treatment plant to prevent benzene, a toxic chemical, from evaporating into the air.
But investigators found that the major source of benzene pollution was coming from a part of the plant not yet addressed by the Clean Air Act: the marine terminal in the York River, where ships unload oil and load gasoline. Controlling benzene pollution there would have cost only about $6 million, the company said.
Using the Yorktown study as a model, the Clinton administration plans to ask Congress for money for analyses of pollution at as many as a dozen other plants serving the automobile, paper, chemical, steel and food processing industries.
In addition, the EPA has begun examining the nation's laws that regulate air and water pollution and control hazardous wastes to try to eliminate overlapping rules that are often in conflict.
EPA Administrator Carol Browner said, "The Yorktown project pointed up some of the really serious problems with regulation that have developed."
When Browner worked for the state of Florida, she said, "I was constantly faced with rigid rules that made doing something 100 times more difficult and expensive than it needed to be. It makes no sense to have a program that raises costs while doing nothing to reduce environmental threats."