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Refinery expansion

Published January 5, 2013 1:01 am

Legislators should reorder priorities
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Holly refinery, which already spews tons of noxious chemicals into the air over the Salt Lake Valley, wants to more than double its output — not of pollution but of fuel. Still, in doing so, it would pump an additional 220 tons of carbon monoxide and 196 tons of greenhouse gases into the air Utahns breathe.

The refinery says the expansion, which must be approved by the state, would bring small declines in the amounts of PM 10, PM 2.5, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds and a 280-ton-per-year drop in sulphur dioxide.

So the overall difference in pollution generated by producing 60,000 barrels of oil per day instead of the current 26,000 barrels per day would be a decrease of 125 tons per year.

That raises a question: If the refinery can reduce overall emissions that much by using technology and increase production, why has it not already reduced its pollution output? And, perhaps the better question that nobody has so far attempted to answer: How much would the additional diesel truck traffic coming to and from the refinery from the Uintah Basin oil wells further pollute the air?

And how would the added vehicle emissions affect the state's effort to meet federal air quality standards? The Utah Division of Air Quality was sent back to the drawing board after failing to come up with a comprehensive plan to meet Environmental Protection Agency requirements by the deadline last year.

But the state agency is caught between higher federal standards and the Utah Legislature, whose members would rather admonish individuals to change their driving habits and ask companies to voluntarily clean up their operations than impose stricter pollution limits on big businesses.

State regulators must listen to the rightly frustrated Utahns and groups such as the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, Breathe Utah and the League of Women Voters who reasonably criticize policies that threaten the health of Utah children, pregnant women and the elderly.

But the regulators do not have authority to deny a permit to expand the refinery as long as it doesn't exceed allowable limits, no matter what the consequences of increased greenhouse gases and vehicle emissions.

As Gov. Gary Herbert continually reiterates, economic development and jobs take precedence over any other issue of state government.

So it is clear that as long as public health is not a top priority, Utah's toxic air will not become any less hazardous.