EPA Blocks Air Permit for BP Refinery Expansion

Agency Decides in Favor of Citizens and Environmental Groups

CHICAGO (October 19, 2009) - The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today issued an objection to the operating permit for BP North America’s refinery in Whiting, IN that will require the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to rewrite the permit. The decision is a victory for the citizens and environmental groups who petitioned EPA to object to the permit in August 2008 on the grounds that it did not accurately account for the large increases in dangerous air pollution that would be caused by BP’s expansion of the refinery. The petition was submitted by Environmental Law & Policy Center, Hoosier Environmental Council, Natural Resources Defense Council, Save the Dunes Council, Sierra Club, Susan Eleuterio and Tom Tsourlis.

BP began a major expansion of the Whiting Refinery in 2008 in order to process dirty Canadian tar sands crude oil at the facility. The expansion would make the refinery the largest refiner of tar sands oil in the U.S. and would increase numerous traditional air pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter. In addition, the expansion would create approximately as much new global warming pollution as a new 300-400 megawatt coal plant, about a forty percent increase from current refinery levels.

BP’s permit application claimed the expansion would not increase pollution because the company would offset the increased emissions by shutting down some older equipment at the refinery at a later date.  But the company failed to take into account many distinct sources of pollution from the refinery, including flares (the large torch-like tower structures that burn excess gases from the refining process) and “fugitive emissions” from leaks and other sources. EPA’s objection requires the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to go back and redo the permit taking these sources into account.  In the case of flares, EPA also presented the option of prohibiting all new and increased flaring emissions.  This is the first Title V decision from the EPA requiring that these pollution sources be addressed in refinery permits, and stands as important direction-setting for future projects.

“BP needs to come clean about what this expansion really will mean for clean air and public health.” said Meleah Geertsma, Staff Attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “It doesn’t matter whether air pollution comes out of a vent or a flare or a smokestack, it’s all part of the problem and it should all be part of the permit. Today EPA has voiced its agreement with our concerns.”

“EPA recognizes what we’ve been telling BP and the state all along -- this refinery expansion is clearly going to dump additional pollution on the surrounding communities, and the law requires BP to control it,” said Ann Alexander, Senior Attorney for the NRDC. “BP has been playing games with the numbers to try to duck that responsibility, but the jig is up."

“In a struggling economy, Indiana is right to be focused on jobs and economic development, but that growth has to be well-balanced with reducing the harm of noxious air to kids and others vulnerable to air pollution. EPA’s decision is a very positive step in ensuring that Hoosiers in Northwest Indiana share in both economic development and improved environmental quality,” says Hoosier Environmental Council Executive Director Jesse Kharbanda.