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Suit filed to ensure action on Suncor oil refinery air pollution permits
“Clean air delayed is clean air denied,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “Suncor’s oil refinery is an environmental injustice and unfortunately, Colorado’s regulators have been complicit in allowing the company to keep violating clean air laws and smothering communities with toxic emissions.”
Suncor’s refinery is a massive source of toxic air pollution and harmful greenhouse gases located in Commerce City in Adams County. It also disproportionately impacts low income households and Latino communities primarily in the 80216 zip code, which is frequently reported as the most polluted zip code in the United States.
The refinery’s air pollution is worsened by the fact that Suncor chronically violates clean air laws and regulations. Even after agreeing earlier in 2020 to pay millions to resolve years of non-compliance, the company continues to violate.
In recent virtual public listening sessions held by state regulators, an outpouring of public opposition and concern over Suncor has emerged. In the face of repeated violations, Adams County Commissioner Steve O’Dorisio commented last year that, “The health and safety of our children depends ending this constant cycle of problem-apology-repeat.”
“The Suncor refinery is the poster child of environmental injustice in Colorado,” said Nichols. “In spite of its disproportionate impacts to communities of color, in spite of ongoing violations, in spite of obvious impacts to public health and the environment, and in spite of growing opposition to ongoing operations, state regulators continue to let Suncor pollute.”
Filed in state court, today’s lawsuit targets the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division’s failure to timely grant or deny two air pollution permits that govern the operations of Suncor’s Commerce City oil refinery. By law, the Division was required to take action within 18 months of receiving updated permit applications from Suncor. For one permit, the Division was required to take action in 2012 and for the other permit, in 2018.
Although the Air Pollution Control Division has taken some steps to review Suncor’s permits, including posting notice of a draft permit for public comment today on their website, the agency is still years away from taking final action.
“This lawsuit is about ensuring certainty that the Colorado Air Division will take action and not let Suncor continue to operate with outdated, incomplete air pollution permits,” said Nichols. “While we appreciate the Division finally moving forward to review Suncor’s permits, unfortunately, communities are suffering in the meantime. This is about putting people before polluters.”
By law, the Air Pollution Control Division must deny air permits if polluters cannot operate in compliance with clean air laws and regulations. In light of Suncor’s chronic air quality violations, WildEarth Guardians and others have called for its permits to be denied and for the refinery to shut down and undergo remediation.
“Fundamentally, today’s lawsuit is about forcing accountability,” said Nichols. “The Air Division can’t continue to turn a blind eye to its duty to deny permits when polluters refuse to comply with the very clean air laws mean to protect our health, safety, and environment.”
The economic benefits of closing the Suncor refinery stand to be enormous. A recent study by the Colorado Fiscal Institute found that Adams County, which is where the refinery is located, would reap upwards of $12.7 million annually due to reduced levels of adverse health impacts. Overall, Colorado stands to reap upward of $35.4 million annually.
Coupled with other co-benefits related to the reduction of harmful emissions, including reduced greenhouse gases, smog and haze forming pollution, and toxic pollutants, WildEarth Guardians has found the costs of closing the refinery would be far less than the cost of pollution controls and ongoing operation.