Residents in five western and southwestern states can breathe a little easier following an announcement by the U.S. Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that they have reached two comprehensive environmental settlements with Conoco Inc., Navajo Refining Co. and Montana Refining Co.
The settlements are expected to reduce harmful air emissions from seven U.S. petroleum refineries by more than 10,000 tons per year. The states of Louisiana, Oklahoma, Montana, Colorado and New Mexico are joining the settlements, which are part of EPA's national effort to reduce air emissions from refineries.
A consent decree filed in late December in U.S. District Court in Houston will require Conoco to spend an estimated $95-$110 million to install the best available technology to control emissions from stacks, wastewater vents, leaking valves and flares throughout its refineries. Another consent decree filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque requires Navajo and Montana Refining to spend an estimated $16-$21 million to undertake similar projects. The terms of the agreements provided the companies with the operating and design flexibility to continue meeting the public's demand for fuel and to increase production capacity, while significantly reducing harmful pollutants, and ensuring continuing compliance with the Clean Air Act rules.
"These settlements are a victory for the environment and the public," said Attorney General John Ashcroft. "They exemplify the U.S. government's commitment to protect our natural resources, to promote cleaner air and to ensure that companies are complying with environmental law."
Under the negotiated settlements, Conoco, Navajo Refining, and Montana Refining will cut emissions by using innovative technologies, incorporating improved leak detection and repair practices, and making other emissions-control upgrades at each of their refineries. The agreement with Conoco will affect refineries located in Lake Charles, La.; Ponca City, Okla.; Commerce City, Colo.; and Billings, Mont. The agreement with Navajo and Montana Refining will affect refineries located in Artesia and Lovington, N.M., and Great Falls, Mont. These refineries comprise more than 3.5 percent of the total refining capacity in the United States.
"The environment and public health will benefit greatly from these agreements. Significant strides have been made to resolving air pollution problems across the refining industry as a result of a concerted effort by state and federal enforcement agencies," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman.
Conoco also agreed to pay a $1.5 million civil penalty under the Clean Air Act and spend about $5 million on environmental projects in communities around the company's refineries. The states of Louisiana, Montana and Oklahoma will share in the cash penalty. Navajo and Montana Refining will pay a $750,000 civil penalty and spend about $1.5 million on environmentally-beneficial projects. The states of New Mexico and Montana will share in the cash penalty.
The new environmental projects at Conoco's refineries will reduce annual emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx) by approximately 3,210 tons, sulfur dioxide (SO2) by approximately 4,000 tons, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by approximately 100 tons and particulate matter (PM) by approximately 400 tons.
"[The] settlement will help to improve Metro Denver's air quality," said U.S. Attorney John Struthers, District of Colorado. "Reducing Conoco's harmful emissions will allow residents, especially those in Commerce City, to breathe a little easier."
The new environmental projects at the refineries owned by Navajo and Montana Refining will reduce annual emissions of NOx by approximately 250 tons, SO2 by approximately 2,350 tons, and VOCs and PM by approximately 100 tons each.
In commenting on the Navajo Consent Decree, Peter Maggiore, secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department, said, "It is a unique settlement that all of the parties should be proud of - it was the right thing to do to protect New Mexico's air quality."
The air pollutants addressed by the agreements can cause serious respiratory problems, including exacerbating cases of childhood asthma.
The United States has reached similar agreements over the past year with Motiva Enterprises, Equilon Enterprises, Deer Park Refining Ltd. Partnership, Marathon Ashland Petroleum LLC, Koch Petroleum Group, BP, Amoco and Atlantic Richfield.
This effort is the result of state and federal enforcement agencies working together with participating companies to address serious environmental problems, to produce settlements that provide for comprehensive relief and assure continuing compliance with Clean Air Act requirements. Collectively, they address more than 30 percent of domestic refining capacity, require over $1.4 billion in new pollution controls and reduce emissions by more than140,000 tons per year.
Navajo Refining and Montana Refining are subsidiaries of Holly Corporation, which is based in Dallas. Conoco Inc. is headquartered in Houston.
edited by Sandy Smith ([email protected])