Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, February 14, 2023

Contact:

Jennifer Valiulis, St. Croix Environmental Association (SEA), (340) 773-1989, jvaliulis@stxenvironmental.org
Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 845-6703, miyoko@biologicaldiversity.org
Sydney Boardman, (802) 431-6222 x 702, sydney@junapr.com

Legal Intervention Supports EPA Permit Requirements for St. Croix Refinery

ST. CROIX, U.S. Virgin Islands— Community and conservation groups filed a motion to intervene yesterday in a case concerning Environmental Protection Agency air permits for a shuttered oil refinery. The Environmental Justice Clinic at Vermont Law and Graduate School filed the motion in the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of their clients, St. Croix Environmental Association, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club.

The community of St. Croix is exposed to significant industrial pollution, and the refinery at the center of this case has a long history of polluting. The plant’s current owner is appealing the EPA’s determination to require a prevention of serious deterioration permit requiring the applicant to install the best available control technology. The EJC is intervening to ensure that the court can hear from the community impacted by public health and safety threats as it considers the legal status and future of the refinery.

“Complying with basic environmental protection requirements is the bare minimum for responsibly operating a facility like this mammoth refinery, and recent history shows why this is so necessary,” said Jennifer Valiulis, executive director of the St. Croix Environmental Association.

More than 70% of St. Croix’s population is Black, and about 22% of residents live below the federal poverty line. The Virgin Islands are a U.S. territory; residents cannot vote in presidential elections and do not have a voting representative in Congress.

In February and May 2021 oil from the refinery fell from the sky, causing widespread contamination on people’s homes, gardens and local drinking water resources. These incidents resulted in major disruptions, including the closure of schools and government offices, mobilization of the Virgin Islands National Guard and fire service. Local residents suffered from noxious odors, severe headaches and nausea.

In May 2021 the EPA used emergency measures to shut down the refinery and reversed a 2018 decision to not require the prevention of serious deterioration permit.

“The EPA absolutely made the right decision by cracking down on this refinery’s dismal pattern of pollution,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center. “The neighborhoods near the refinery have suffered enough harm, and the plant should remain shut down for good. The EPA is finally taking the risks posed by this facility seriously, and we need to stop the company from starting up that dirty refinery without a new permit.”

The prevention of serious deterioration permit requires the applicant to have installed the best available control technology, conduct an air quality analysis and an additional impacts analysis, and ensure public involvement. These crucial mechanisms ensure the safety of people who live on St. Croix.

“We want the community surrounded by the refinery to have all the protections that federal law makes available,” said Jane Williams, chair of the Sierra Club National Clean Air Team. “The community deserves these protections which Congress promised them when the Clean Air Amendments were passed in 1990.”

“It’s easy to forget that when Limetree started the refinery, thousands of people were sickened by their emissions, schools and COVID vaccination centers were closed, and oil rained down onto people's homes and into cisterns,” said Jennifer Valiulis. “We are greatly disappointed that Port Hamilton won’t agree to even this very basic permit and fear that this is an indicator of their lack of concern for the health and safety of St. Croix's people.”

Background

The case, Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation, LLLP v United States Environmental Protection Agency, is on appeal from the Federal District Court of the Virgin Islands, and revolves around Clean Air Act permits required for the refinery to commence operations.

Located in Christiansted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, the refinery was built in 1966 and operated by HOVENSA, a joint venture between Hess Corporation and PDVSA, the Venezuelan state-owned oil company. In 2008 it was discovered that HOVENSA spilled more than 42 million barrels of oil — more than four times the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez — into the groundwater of St. Croix.

The refinery closed in 2012 after years of losses and major EPA penalties, including a $5 million fine and a consent decree requiring HOVENSA to spend more than $700 million to install new pollution controls following major accidents. HOVENSA never made the improvements; instead, by shuttering the facility, it did not need to comply with the consent decree.

Limetree Bay Terminals, LLC, purchased the facility to use as a storage terminal, until 2018, when it announced the intention to restart refining operations. The current owner is Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation.

The EPA, under former President Donald Trump, aided Limetree’s application to operate the refinery by treating it as the reactivation of an “idled” facility, rather than a “new source,” which contradicted long-standing EPA reactivation policy and PSD permitting.

The community of St. Croix was severely impacted by the refinery’s new operation, including the release of toxic hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide, which required the evacuation of refinery employees.

The EPA reviewed the refinery’s maintenance logs and discovered signs of inadequate maintenance that caused the series of accidents when the refinery began operations in late 2020.

The EPA now considers the refinery a new, stationary source of pollution and as such requires a PSD permit from Port Hamilton.

St. Croix Environmental Association (SEA) is a US Virgin Islands, nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to empowering St. Croix’s citizens to promote the conservation of environmental resources, provide education, and advocate for environmentally responsible actions that benefit St. Croix.

About Vermont Law and Graduate School: Vermont Law and Graduate School, a private, independent institution, is home to the nation’s premier environmental law program. The school features innovative experiential programs and is home to the Environmental Law Center, South Royalton Legal Clinic, Environmental Advocacy Clinic, Energy Clinic, Food and Agriculture Clinic, Environmental Justice Clinic, and Center for Justice Reform. For more information, visit vermontlaw.edu, Facebook, Twitter.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Sierra Club is the most enduring and influential grassroots environmental organization in the United States. We amplify the power of our 3.8 million members and supporters to defend everyone’s right to a healthy world.

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