'Tis the season for giving, and this year the state of Utah is giving everyone Holly Holly Refinery pollution that is having just granted permission for the refinery to double its capacity and increase its emissions. The state depicts this as a veritable gift from Santa, a "Holly Jolly Christmas" for all.
Indeed, it will be jolly, but only for Holly. The rest of us will be lucky if Santa can find our chimneys in the smog.
The state has never turned down a permit from our largest polluters, approval is always a foregone conclusion. The latest examples: Industry insiders told me that last year Tesoro was so confident their expansion would be granted on the day they expected, that they moved in their construction crew from out of state.
But challenges from the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE) forced a delay, which provoked Tesoro brass to fly in from Texas for a fatherly "chat" with the Division of Air Quality (DAQ). The permit came, but several weeks late, and the construction crew was paid the whole time for doing nothing, making Tesoro management livid.
Fingerprints of the state considering the Holly expansion another done deal from the start are found on the DAQ's PM2.5 website that stated last year Holly had already been granted its permit in November 2012, one year before it actually was.
UPHE hired refinery experts to scrutinize these permits. One of them said Holly's was the worst permit they had ever seen. DAQ accepted from Holly an unprecedented formula of estimating emissions that miraculously yielded results 15 times lower than the standard, EPA approved, formula.
The banner under Department of Environmental Quality's (DEQ) homepage is, "Protecting human health and quality of life by protecting and enhancing the environment." The refinery expansion saga shows what DEQ is protecting and it's not your health. E-mails reveal DAQ held Holly's hand throughout the permitting process, warning them in advance about potential road blocks within the state PM2.5 State Implementation Plan (SIP), allowing them a clear advantage in getting their expansion grandfathered in before the restraints of the SIP would kick in.
The governor, DAQ, DEQ and Holly are publicly slathering lipstick all over this pollution pig, orchestrating a charade about Holly magnanimously reducing NOx and SOx despite a doubling of production volume. The truth is those reductions should have come a long time ago, cost comparatively little money, are not inherent to the expansion and were only offered after groups like UPHE protested their first expansion application. The health hazards from Holly will now be greater, from more PM2.5, large increases in carbon monoxide (the deadly compound that made all those schoolchildren seriously ill a few weeks ago), diesel exhaust from hundreds of new oil trucks, and a significant increase in"HAPs" (the cancer-causing, brain-damaging, pregnancy-threatening compounds like benzene and heavy metals).
Worse still, EPA documents and the Associated Press revealed that "off the books," uncounted, fugitive emissions dwarf official emissions of most refineries by up to 100 times and there's no question those will increase at Holly proportional to the increase in production.
Holly shareholders stand to make billions, the price of gas won't change, Utahns will get more pollution for decades, our economy will become more tied to dirty energy, I-80, I-15, and South Davis County will be overrun with belching diesel trucks, real estate values will drop, cleaner employers like Goldman Sachs will be less likely to come, quality of life and public health will all suffer.
There is a glimmer of hope. A disconnect is growing between the fossil fuels scrooges and the mood of the people. A Deseret News poll showed that air quality is now tied for first place in issues of concern to Utah residents.
But someone should tell our visionary state leaders still committed to making Utah the dirty energy/dirty industry capital of the West. Last week legislators cheered lobbyist Jeff Hartley as he urged them to mount a war chest to fight clean air advocates and environmentalists who get in the way of dirty energy development throughout the state. So, Merry Christmas, Utah, from your state government. God help us, everyone!
Brian Moench, M.D., is president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.