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State sued over Holly Refinery expansion: 'We have all felt our eyes, lungs burn'

State sued over Holly Refinery expansion: 'We have all felt our eyes, lungs burn'

(Tom Smart/Deseret News)


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WOODS CROSS — Western Resource Advocates has filed a lawsuit against the state challenging a permit modification allowing the expansion of the HollyFrontier Refinery in Woods Cross.

The Boulder-based environmental law and policy organization brought the challenge Monday before the Utah Court of Appeals on behalf of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and Friends of the Great Salt Lake, which contend the expansion should not occur given the Wasatch Front's struggle with air pollution problems.

"Permitting Holly to emit more pollution in our already highly polluted region is a death sentence for some individuals,” said Tim Wagner with Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “Our state agencies must do a better job of reducing air pollution and protecting public health.”

The permit modification approved by the Utah Division of Air Quality in 2013 allows fine particulate pollution, or PM2.5, to increase by just under 7 tons and results in reductions of sulfur dioxide emissions of nearly 151 tons per year and nitrous oxide decreases of 21.5 tons per year.

Groups contend that Utah air quality regulators failed to accurately calculate the emissions that will come from the expansion, which involves the refinery boosting its processing of crude oil from 40,000 barrels per day to 60,000 barrels per day.

At the heart of the lawsuit is the assertion by environmental groups that the expansion will result in a major increase in pollution, which is not allowed in a non-attainment area such as the Wasatch Front.

Because the refinery operates in an airshed in which the state has failed to meet the federally mandated reductions in pollution, the groups say the division should have nixed the modification request.


We have all felt our eyes and lungs burn and worried about the health of our children and parents. Utah should not permit another new project that will result in a major increase in air pollution and make this bad situation worse.

–Joro Walker


“We have all felt our eyes and lungs burn and worried about the health of our children and parents. Utah should not permit another new project that will result in a major increase in air pollution and make this bad situation worse,” said Joro Walker, lead attorney on the case and Western Resource Advocate’s Utah director.

The permit modification was sought by the refinery so it could switch from processing heavier crude with a higher sulfur content to crude brought in from the Uintah Basin, which is the black or yellow wax crude with a lower sulfur content. The locally produced crude requires different processing equipment and also has the refinery eying a potential heated pipeline for transport of the material.

Lynn de Freitas, executive director of Friends of the Great Salt Lake, said it is wrong to allow any more pollution in the area.

“There is no safe level of exposure to particulate pollution and no threshold below which negative health effects disappear. Some people literally die from exposure. Utah’s agencies should never allow more pollution when there are alternative paths for our economy and our health to improve,” she said.

The groups also filed a lawsuit in December of 2014 challenging the state-issued permit for Tesoro Refinery.

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