Limetree and EPA’s Promises Ring Hollow, V.I. Deserves Better

Government House image of the Limetree Bay. facility.
Government House image of the Limetree Bay facility.

The St. Croix Environmental Association humbly asks the people of the United States Virgin Islands, especially the community on St. Croix, to please submit comments on the Limetree Bay Refinery Clean Air Act Plantwide Applicability Limit permit application.

Limetree should be treaded as a new facility. Plus, we need more say in the process – the Environmental Protection Agency held only two meetings for the public, and none were held in Spanish or French Creole. For comparison, EPA and Limetree representatives have had hundreds of email exchanges, conference calls and in-person meetings combined.

Also, EPA and Limetree have not translated any documents into Spanish and French Creole. We are being excluded from the process so Limetree can open as quickly as possible – for them by January 2020, a mere month away.

The public notice advertising these meetings were published on Oct. 11 ­– triggering the legally required 45-day countdown for the public’s review and comment period. SEA, a nonprofit that advocates for conservation on St. Croix, has had to review the thousands of pages of documents for the PAL permit and become literate on the Clean Air Act practically overnight. By comparison, Limetree and its partners have had years to prepare and make significant funds available to expend on the PAL permit review process.

Powerful, special interests appear to be ensuring that this facility opens as soon as possible, despite significant unmet needs of the public.

SEA urges St. Croix residents to submit comments by Monday, Nov, 25. We are asking for the following, which is not an extensive list by any means:

– Limetree will follow in Hovensa’s steps: permit should be denied due to adverse impacts and likely violation of federal and territorial environmental laws;

– PAL is not our PAL: Limetree must proceed under the Prevention of Significant Deterioration under the New Source Review standard pursuant to the Clean Air Act instead of following the PAL permit process;

– Baseline zero: current baseline emissions calculations are not representative of normal source operations and should be set at zero under the NSR standard and not 2011 levels via PAL permit process;

– Best available technology: any permit must have the requirement of LIDAR for emissions tracking at Limetree Bay and must include continuous fence line monitoring;

– Public access to data: make all emissions data available to the public online and in written reports in both English and Spanish;

– Public health: the environmental justice analysis is ambiguous and fails to even mention public health impacts such as cancer or respiratory problems;

– Not everyone is an English speaker: all Limetree documents must be translated into Spanish and French Creole to meet accommodations for individuals with limited English proficiency;

– Save our endangered species: there must be a BiOp and consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service on all endangered species surrounding the refinery to comply with the Endangered Species Act;

– Protect Sandy Point: More analysis is necessary about Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge, located about 10 miles west of the refinery;

– No fluoride-based chemicals: Limetree must not use any fluoride-based fire foam for oil fire extinguishing on St. Croix – it is a known carcinogen and akin to PCBs – they must be fluorine free;

– Extension: Our community needs an extension of 60 days for us to have more time to review the Limetree Bay Refinery Clean Air Act Plantwide Applicability Limit (PAL) permit application, a highly technical project.

SEA acknowledges that the PAL permit review is in its early stages, but already the process appears tainted. The former EPA administrator who issued the foundational advisory opinion establishing the rigor of review is now under ethics investigations for allegedly using his position to improperly benefit his fossil fuel industry legal clients. Specifically, Limetree was designated a “reactivating” oil facility despite being closed for seven years, and as a result, is analyzed under a lesser-standard review than had it been designated as a “new” source for the purposes of the Clean Air Act. The regulations interpreting the Clean Air Act presume that a source shut down for more than two years should be subject to the rigorous standards applicable to a “new” facility.

We feel strongly that Limetree should be held to appropriately high standards for pollution, given Hovensa’s egregious, historical Clean Air Act violations and well-known pollution problems. Additionally, it should not be taken lightly that none of the critical PAL permit documents have been translated into Spanish and French Creole – this is required by environmental justice policies for places with a “significant” portion of the population that does not speak English well, if at all.

From the outset, Limetree representatives have met with the EPA to seek an expedited decision from the EPA that would enable to Limetree to begin projects quickly. It feels as though they do not want our voices heard. The hypocrisy is that Limetree claims to try to include us and are committed to “growing jobs on the island” – but they have to pay us lip-service as part of their license to operate.

It is a sad day when we lose faith in the government bodies designed to help us protect our air, water, oceans, land, ecosystems, our health, our lives and our children’s futures. But yet, here we find ourselves with little faith in the EPA, our V.I. Government and Limetree.

SEA respectfully asks for a fair administrative process for our community. We are not demanding something unreasonable. We request that the community be allowed enough time to be able to adequately contemplate this extensive, massive technical project that has major environmental and social implications for our island. SEA and our members must have a say in the future of our island – for the now and future generations.

The U.S. Government must be able to hear our voices at the strongest decibel possible.

Virgin Islanders are a historically underrepresented population in the United States and many are the descendants of formerly enslaved people. Yet still to this day, Virgin Islanders are still excluded from full voting rights in Congress and for president. Thus, we have no say in what the U.S. Government dictates to us. Yet, Limetree and the EPA expect us to lie down and trust their judgment when the EPA has been working against our interests by loosening pollution standards?

Further, SEA is all too familiar with how faulty Hovensa’s self-regulating and data reporting has been – hence the multimillion dollar Clean Air Act violation ordered by the EPA in 2012 and the class action lawsuit filed by workers for asbestos exposure, to name a few instances. For example, the baseline numbers for air pollutants covered by Limetree’s PAL permit are based on outdated data from 2009-2010 when Hovensa operated the oil refinery facility at high capacity. These air pollutants have serious consequences on the air we breathe, the Caribbean Sea we swim in, the water we drink and the land on which we live.

Limetree must implement the safeguards that we believe are best for our beautiful island. At the onset, we expect, at a minimum, continuous fence line monitoring with continuously published data that members of the public can access 24/7; no fluoride-based firefighting foam on the island; complete and comprehensive emergency preparedness plans that acknowledge climate change and category 5 hurricanes; National Marine and Fisheries Service and Fish and Wildlife Service analyses under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act; an oil spill trust fund; and coral restoration projects. Additionally, we expect EPA to post the pertinent documents in Spanish and French Creole, as many of our community members do not speak English well, if at all.

SEA has a committed, active and passionate membership base who do not want to see St. Croix’s beautiful environment and residents harmed by unchecked and unmitigated pollution from Limetree. We are a resilient people – who else could survive and prosper after two back-to-back category 5 hurricanes? Plus, we must fight for the next generation – we cannot hand them a St. Croix tomorrow that is worse than today because we failed to stand up for their rights. However, we cannot be rushed by Limetree and its partners, the EPA, the U.S. Government or the Government of the Virgin Islands into making critical decisions that affect us today and our future generations. Limetree ignored the community event organized by SEA and the St. Croix Foundation – their absence speaks volumes that they do not take us as Virgin Islanders seriously. Our community is only just learning about this process – we need more time for our community to speak and comment on the PAL permit and its implications for our island.

Development does not have to be at the expense of our environment. SEA fully understands that we need economic development in the Virgin Islands. We have options to grow our economy – invest in sustainable tourism, solar industry, technology, agriculture, etc. Do we want the people of St. Croix and our beautiful Caribbean environment destroyed because a handful of stateside and foreign business entities want to make a quick dollar? We are not ignoring the fact that officials in both the United States Virgin Islands and the U.S. Government proclaim the facility as the magic bullet to cure the Virgin Islands’ and St. Croix’s economy; however, do not be deceived by their silky words. Limetree’s intention is only to get ahead of the low-sulfur shipping fuel market whose new fuel standards take effect next year. SEA understands and welcomes the opportunities of job creation, economic growth and the future that Limetree could provide to the island. But, this facility is a ticking time bomb. When an oil spill or gas explosion happens, Crucians and our pristine home will be an afterthought. We deserve better than magic tricks and false promises of reform.

Our history is chock full of instances of Virgin Islanders standing up for our rights. We deserve a chance to have a say in the process — not an unreasonable ask given the millions of dollars invested in the facility, tens of thousands of lives at stake and millions of dollars of ecosystem value in jeopardy. Let’s show the EPA that we care about St. Croix, St. Croix’s environment and making sure that St. Croix’s rich natural resources are protected for the next generations.