Letter: Refinery Needs Effective Regulation

Hovensa oil flare on Sept. 30, 2010 (Source photo by Bill Kossler)

I am a full-time resident of St. Croix. I was born on St. Croix, grew up here and have lived a large portion of my life on this island. To many of us, St. Croix is our home, not an “out of control economic opportunity” to further greed vs responsible reasonable wealth.

Do you remember a few years ago the black soot covering our roofs, homes, road signs, etc.? Do you remember how it significantly lessened after Hovensa closed?
Can you imagine the lining of your lungs, sinuses, throat from breathing air loaded with black soot? Do you know the effect that high levels of polluted air have on the incidence of lung cancer, COPD, asthma, lymphoma, mesothelioma, to name but a few maladies and cancers?

Are you aware that when Hovensa closed in 2012, due to their inability to control pollution or safely run the plant, that there was a stipulation requiring that after two years, should the plant open again as a refinery, it had to do so as a “new” refinery with updated safety and pollution regulations? It could not “reopen” as the old refinery with the outdated inferior safety controls. However, that is exactly what Limetree Bay is doing.

Limetree Bay Terminals and oil refinery is such a massive operation that it is imperative it adheres to the strictest safety and pollution standards. It apparently has been working with the federal EPA to do the very opposite. Last week it was announced that the EPA was withdrawing a permit that had been approved by the Trump administration. Even though the permit is no longer valid, the refinery will be able to continue operations pending appeals. This should not be allowed.

A few of our concerns are their efforts throughout Limetree’s reopening process to rush through the permits, vastly lower the environmental standards, request to be designated as a “reopening facility” vs a new one with improved environmental safety standards, bypass the Prevention of Significant Deterioration pursuant to the Clean Air Act and operate instead under the Plantwide Applicability Limit permit (PAL) which will enable “Limetree Bay flexibility to make changes within its facility for a period of 10 years, as long as the emissions from the facility are below the emission limits established in the permit. This permit will allow Limetree Bay to quickly respond to industry and market changes through a streamlined permitting process, as long as the facility stays below the emissions limits. The result will help to keep the refinery competitive.” (Nov. 08, 2019, St. Croix Source)

This last request is frightening. Not only does Limetree wish to be permitted a much higher limit for harmful polluting emissions, but they also want the ability to make changes as they see fit for 10 years in order to (using their own words) “keep the refinery competitive.” That translates to money and only money is the bottom line.

We need time to study and understand the variances that Limetree is requesting. We need assurance that no fluoride-based chemical will be used, especially to extinguish fires; we need protection for our ocean, for our sea and land animals, for vegetation and nature and we most definitely need protection for we, the people. The Biden administration and the current EPA needs to address these concerns.

No one is against economic development and growth, but there are many ways of doing this that are not at variance with the health and life of an island, its people, and nature.

The deleterious effects of poorly regulated policies allowing pollution of our air, water and land will affect ALL of St. Croix, not just those in close proximity to the refinery.

Please network to find the most effective way of obtaining sufficient regulations to enable St. Croix to coexist healthily with all businesses. Please spread this message to as many people as possible with whatever means of communication available to you. Time is of the essence.

Thank you,
Gwendolyn Skeoch