That question was one of several issues addressed by EPA in its review of a Petition for Objection filed by the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (“LEAN”) on Title V permits issued to ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge Refinery. The Clean Air Act requires that a state agency give reasonable “opportunity for public comment and a hearing” on a draft Title V operating permit before the final permit is issued. In the ExxonMobil case, LEAN filed comments and requested a public hearing on several draft permits. LEAN was the only commenter and the only person requesting a hearing. The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality denied the request for hearing, but did consider and respond to the comments submitted by LEAN. After LDEQ issued the permits, the environmental group petitioned EPA to formally object to the permits, citing as one of many grounds that LDEQ did not grant the hearing request.
On June 29, 2005, EPA denied LEAN’s petition. EPA indicated that an “opportunity” for a hearing does not mean that the DEQ had to actually grant the hearing. EPA said that while a request for a hearing by just one organization sometimes might be sufficient, “[g]iven the fact that Petitioners were the only commenters, LDEQ could have reasonably concluded that there was not sufficient public interest to hold a hearing on these permits.” The opinion also noted that although the LDEQ did not hold a public hearing, ExxonMobil held an informal open house for the public concerning the project, and that the agency had attended that meeting. According to the opinion, each agency must use reasonable judgment to review all of the facts, and the public informational meeting held by ExxonMobil may have played a part in LDEQ’s decision. The citizen group must show that the agency unreasonably exercised its discretion in order to prevail. The entire decision is available at http://www.epa.gov/region07/programs/artd/air/title5/petitiondb/petitions/exxonmobil_batonrouge_response2004.pdf.