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Utah refinery pollution triggers environmental group actions

Published July 23, 2013 12:59 pm

Doctors group, Sierra Club seek to block refineries expansion, update.
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The Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE) and the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, insisting state regulators aren't doing enough to clean up the air, are taking aim at Utah's five Wasatch Front refineries.

"Wasatch Front residents deserve to be protected from the serious air pollution that often plagues our community," said Dan Mayhew, of the Sierra Club. "We will all suffer for allowing the local refineries to expand and pollute more, especially when the new production will all be sent out of state and won't make a dent in the local price of gas."

The groups on Monday filed a stay with the Department of Environmental Quality, seeking to block the Tesoro refinery update. They say the state-granted permit is illegal because it is too lax, partly because regulators failed to require the refinery to cut emissions as much as clean-air laws demand.

Bryce Bird, Utah Division of Air Quality director, declined to directly comment on the groups' pending legal actions. "We have not received the legal documents and cannot comment on the content," he said.

"However, it is important to note that current efforts are continuing to develop new requirements to address air pollution in the state," Bird added. "This will include required reductions from each of the refineries. Responding to challenges to permits that were issued under the past requirements defers sparse state resources away from the actions that will provide future reductions."

UPHE and the Sierra Club also are opposing the Division of Air Quality's "intent to approve" expansion at the nearby Holly refinery. They say the oil company is doctoring its emissions estimates, and regulators, by going along with those estimates, are making industry profits a priority over public health.

"Holly's contention of being able to double capacity with a minimal increase in emissions is not credible and not supported by the facts," the groups said in a news release.

In addition, the doctors group and the Sierra Club say they plan to file suit next month over the state's failure to issue a valid "Title V" permit for the Tesoro refinery.

The catch-all Title V permits provide a simple summary of the air regulations that pertain to all major polluters and provide an important tool to help citizens hold polluters accountable for their emissions.

But the Utah air-quality office has not required them for all five refineries because of what amounts to a bookkeeping quarrel with the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency and because they say the refineries already comply with clean air standards through other state-issued permits.

The groups call the absence of Title V permits "egregious," especially in light of the state's ongoing struggle to meet particulate-pollution standards in the winter.

Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, said air-pollution levels are already hazardous.

"More pollution from the refineries, and the hundreds of new daily diesel trucks bringing in the crude oil, sacrifices our health and that of our patients, just so Holly and Tesoro can make more money," he said. "It is indefensible and our community shouldn't tolerate it."

fahys@sltrib.com

Twitter: @judyfutah