Suncor again accused of violating multiple pollution laws despite record fines for past leaks, EPA and state say    (2024)

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Wide-ranging inspections in late 2023 uncovered new rounds of leaks and monitoring problems, after state officials said previous fines set the Commerce City refinery on a better path.

Suncor again accused of violating multiple pollution laws despite record fines for past leaks, EPA and state say (1)byMichael Booth

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Suncor again accused of violating multiple pollution laws despite record fines for past leaks, EPA and state say (2)

The EPA and state regulators on Monday hit Suncor with another round of pollution violation notices for the past two years, despite a $10.5 million settlement for similar 2021 transgressions that state officials vowed would set the refinery on a path to cleaner operations.

A 140-page litany of alleged new violations compiled by the EPA’s regional office and released Monday accuses Suncor of continued releases of benzene and other toxins into the air and water around the Commerce City plant. The newest violations, including in some areas the EPA had not pinpointed in previous inspections, will restart criticism from neighbors and environmental groups that small fines have not altered the course of Suncor’s multi-billion dollar business.

“The Commerce City refinery has been subject to state air enforcement actions by the (state Air Pollution Control Division) annually for at least the past 10 years,” the EPA’s new notice of violations emphasized.

The joint notice by the EPA regional office and state regulators is the first step in what may end up as the next round of fines and other penalties for Suncor, which has been the target of similar notices and subsequent negotiations in recent years. The notice asks Suncor to begin meeting with federal and state officials to either challenge the allegations or begin mitigation plans.

Suncor has asked the EPA to withhold some of the information about a portion of the violations as confidential business information.

“EPA remains unyielding in its efforts to ensure the Suncor refinery complies with laws and regulations that protect human health and the environment,” EPA Regional Administrator KC Becker said. “Working with the state, we will continue to investigate these alleged violations and pursue all opportunities to improve conditions for the residents of North Denver, Commerce City and nearby communities.”

In February, Colorado issued a $10.5 million penalty on Suncor Commerce City for three years of air pollution violations lasting through June 2021. The state at the time called it the largest-ever action against a single facility. The state settled a lawsuit from Suncor at the same time, with the company agreeing to double monitoring of air pollution at the fenceline of the troubled fuel plant.

That February agreement surpassed a $9 million deal in 2020 for similar releases at Commerce City. Colorado director of public health Jill Hunsaker Ryan in February called the pact a “historic enforcement package” to “demonstrate our unwavering commitment to environmental protection and the health of our residents.”

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“We will continue to use every tool available to prevent Suncor from having future violations,” Hunsaker Ryan said at the time. She said the $5 million in required plant improvements in the 2020 settlement had made a measurable difference in Suncor violations since then, and the February settlement required $8 million more in plant changes in addition to a $2.5 million cash fine.

The EPA’s new notice says a joint federal and state inspection in October 2023 revealed that not nearly enough improvements have been made at the large refining compound, which sprawls across three different plants.

The EPA violation notice cites breaches of the following laws and state rulemaking:

  • U.S. Clean Air Act standards for benzene waste and other hazardous air pollutants
  • U.S. Clean Air Act performance standards and Title V permitting rules
  • The Colorado Air Pollution Prevention and Control Act and Colorado Air Quality Control Commission regulations
  • Suncor’s Title V operating permits issued by the state’s administration of the Clean Air Act.

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Type of Story: News

Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Michael BoothEnvironment Reporter

booth@coloradosun.com

Michael Booth is The Sun’s environment writer, and co-author of The Sun’s weekly climate and health newsletter The Temperature. He and John Ingold host the weekly SunUp podcast on The Temperature topics every Thursday. He is co-author...More by Michael Booth

Suncor again accused of violating multiple pollution laws despite record fines for past leaks, EPA and state say    (2024)

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