Suncor refinery in Commerce City violated air quality regulations, EPA and CDPHE allege

Posted at 9:04 PM, Jul 08, 2024

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) issued a notice to Suncor Energy, alleging its Commerce City refinery violated air quality regulations.

According to the Notice of Violation, Suncor allegedly violated the Clean Air Act and Colorado Air Pollution Prevention and Control Act by improperly emitting hazardous air pollutants like benzene.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes benzene as a "chemical that is colorless or light yellow liquid at room temperature... has a sweet odor and is highly flammable." Long-term exposure, meaning exposure of a year or more, can cause harmful effects on the bone marrow as well as a decrease in red blood cells, leading to anemia, according to the CDC. It can also cause excessive bleeding and can affect the immune system. The CDC states long-term exposure to high levels of benzene in the air can cause leukemia.



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The notice comes on the heels of a Clean Air Act inspection, which was launched in October 2023. The EPA and CDPHE allege Suncor violated the following policies:

  • The Clean Air Act's standards for benzene waste and other hazardous air pollutants
  • The Clean Air Act's 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 CDPHE under the Clean Air Act

In a statement, the EPA said it "remains unyielding in its efforts to ensure the Suncor refinery complies with laws and regulations."
“EPA remains unyielding in its efforts to ensure the Suncor refinery complies with laws and regulations that protect human health and the environment,” said EPA Regional Administrator KC Becker in a statement. “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.”

CDPHE issued a similar statement, saying it will "continue exploring all options to ensure Suncor complies with air quality requirements."

“We’re grateful for EPA’s partnership in this enforcement action, and we’re confident it will build upon our recent actions and improve the refinery’s operations,” said CDPHE Executive Director Jill Hunsaker-Ryan in a statement. “Through a comprehensive approach, we continue exploring all options to ensure Suncor complies with air quality requirements. This new joint enforcement action underscores our shared commitment with EPA to provide the communities near Suncor with the enhanced protections they deserve.”

This is not the first time Suncor Energy has faced allegations of air pollution violations. In February, CDPHE slapped Suncor Refinery with a $10.5 million fine for air pollution violations from July 2019 through June 2021. It was the department's largest enforcement package against a single facility. In August 2023, the EPA objected an air quality permit for Suncor Energy for the second time and tasked Colorado regulators to reconsider checks on operations to ensure compliance with state and federal clean air laws.

Suncor Energy has also been accused of water quality violations. In March, Colorado issued a new, long-overdue water-pollution permit to Suncor Energy that restricts the amount of “forever chemicals” and other harmful pollutants the company’s Commerce City refinery can discharge into Sand Creek.

Several citizen groups are hoping to put a stop to Suncor's alleged violations. Last month, Green Latinos, 350 Colorado and Sierra Club sent a notice of intent to sue to Suncor, Colorado’s Air Pollution Control Division and the EPA. The groups told Denver7 they intend for the lawsuit to hold Suncor accountable for alleged repeated violations of the federal Clean Air Act over the last five years. The violations include more than 1,000 emissions of hazardous air pollutants exceeding limits set by state and federal regulations.

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