EPA set to approve long overdue air permit for Suncor refinery in Commerce City

A long overdue air permit for the Suncor refinery in Commerce City will be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, bringing the facility closer to being in compliance with federal regulations.

The state will issue the permit on Sept. 1, Michael Ogletree, the state’s Air Pollution Control division director, said Thursday during a meeting with the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission. A spokesman for the EPA’s Region 8 office confirmed the approval.

The EPA in March rejected the Plant 2 application submitted by CDPHE and asked the state to reconsider its plan to monitor three sites where Suncor uses flares to burn off excess chemicals. Originally, the Air Pollution Control Division wanted to exempt those flaring sources from regular monitoring but the EPA wanted the state to do more analysis and justify its reasoning behind those exemptions.

In its revised application, the state developed specific monitoring plans for flares at the Plant 2 refinery, a truck loading dock and a railcar loading site, Richard Mylott, an EPA spokesman said.

“These plans clarify how existing monitoring at these emissions points will be used to ensure compliance with regulations,” he said.

Suncor operates under two federal Title IV air permits and both expired years ago. Those air-quality permits are supposed to be renewed every five years, but the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which must approve applications before advancing them to the EPA, failed to act. The refinery is allowed to continue operations under the terms of its old permits until new ones are approved.

The permit for Suncor’s Plant 2, which was approved earlier this month, was issued in 2006 and revised in 2009. Suncor submitted a renewal application for Plant 2 in 2010 to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment. Plant 2 refines oil into gasoline and other fuels.

Suncor’s second air permit, which covers its Plants 1 and 3, expired four years ago and is under review by the EPA. The plant has two air permits because one was held by a company that previously owned parts of the refinery. Plant 1 refines oil into gasoline while Plant 3 manufactures asphalt.

In its March objection on the Plant 2 permit, the EPA also expressed significant concern about the refinery’s environmental impact on people who live and work within a three-mile radius of the plant, and KC Becker, administrator of the EPA’s Region 8, suggested multiple steps the state can take to improve communication with the community when it comes to permitting for the plant and reporting on the pollution that comes from it.

The state has assured Becker and the EPA that it is committed to working with the community about their concerns. In a letter notifying Colorado officials that the Plant 2 permit would be approved, Becker asked CDPHE to post a written response about its plans on how to address the community’s concerns on its website within 90 days.

Suncor declined to comment on the permit revisions other than to confirm it will be effective on Sept. 1.

The public has until Oct. 11 to file a petition to appeal the permit’s approval.

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