What was going on outside wound up having a big influence on what state regulators heard inside the Department of Environmental Quality building Thursday as they fielded public comments on a local oil refinery's proposed expansion.
About four dozen people showed up to weigh in on Holly's proposal to more than double the daily output of its Woods Cross refinery, and they had to endure a dirty cloud of air pollution to get there.
There were supporters who spoke up and noted the jobs and economic activity the expansion would create. But many more questioned the state's logic, ethics and sanity in tentatively approving Holly's plans when the air outside was so foul and the Division of Air Quality has failed to develop a comprehensive plan to clean it up.
Ingrid Griffee, a member of Utah Moms for Clean Air, asked why her children are urged to forgo recess and she's asked to drive less when regulators are simultaneously allowing more tankers to deliver more oil to the refinery.
"I'm wondering," she said, echoing the disbelief and annoyance expressed by many opponents, "why we are going to be inviting more diesel traffic in our valleys?"
Joel Ban voiced similar concerns, noting the state failed to meet a federal deadline last month to submit a complete package of pollution-reduction plans aimed at eliminating wintertime particulate pollution episodes like these.
"It seems to me we are going in the wrong direction we need to be going in terms of writing air-quality regulations," he said.
The state has verified Holly has said its new pollution control equipment will cut overall pollution by nearly 125 tons a year even though production will go up from 26,000 barrels a day to 60,000.
Still, representatives of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, the League of Women Voters, Breathe Utah and the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment voiced their opposition to the expansion. State Sen. Jerry W. Stevenson, R-Layton, joined local union and Uintah Basin community leaders in explaining why they view Holly's plans as a positive impact for the community and the state.
Utah Petroleum Association President Lee Peacock commended Holly for its stewardship and noted that the expanded refinery would process black and yellow waxy crude oil from the Uinta Basin, creating a new market for Utah's natural resources, along with more jobs and economic activity.
"The extraction of these resources benefits all of us," he said.
State regulators, straightforward about their plan to approve the expansion, have said they have little power under current regulations to force new reductions at Holly or the two other Salt Lake Valley refineries that are expanding, since they won't exceed the allowable pollution limits even with expansion.
More oil refined, but less pollution
As they pored over the Holly refinery's application to expand, state regulators confirmed that pollution would decline with the proposed expansion. The company would increase its output to 60,000 barrels a day, compared with the current 26,000 barrels a day.
The proposed modifications will mean lower PM10 (-31.34 tons per year), PM2.5 (-14.09 tpy), nitrogen oxides (-5.38 tpy), sulphur dioxide (-279.56 tpy) and volatile organic compounds (-14.88 tpy). There will be increases in carbon monoxide (220.28 tpy) and in greenhouse gases (195,907 tpy).
More time to weigh in on the Holly expansion
O The Utah Division of Air Quality has extended the monthlong comment period on the Holly refinery expansion by two weeks. Comments will now be accepted until 6 p.m., Jan. 18. You can see key documents here > 1.usa.gov/137iYVV
The documents are also available for public inspection at the agency's offices, 195 N. 1950 West, Salt Lake City.