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Environmental Protection Agency rejects Suncor's air quality permit, tasks CDPHE to make changes

Posted at 7:01 AM, Aug 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-02 09:01:38-04

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) objected an air quality permit for Suncor Energy for the second time Tuesday, and tasked Colorado regulators to reconsider checks on operations to ensure compliance with state and federal clean air laws.

In a release issued Tuesday, the agency announced it had accepted some of the claims made by environmental groups in petitions against Suncor’s permit, which was finalized by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) last year. The petitions argued that not enough was being done to limit pollution from the company’s refinery in Commerce City.

By accepting some of the groups’ claims, the EPA rejected the permit and is now demanding that CDPHE determine if more checks are needed on Suncor’s operations. It also directed regulators to evaluate modifications made to the plant, and ensure they meet requirements.

CDPHE said it is reviewing the decision and is working with the EPA, environmental groups and community members to develop “strong and enforceable permits” for Suncor.

Neighbors and community groups have been speaking out about their concerns with pollution from Suncor for years. In March, the community organization Cultivandoreleased findings from its year-long monitoring of air around the Suncor refinery, saying it showed the pollution was “dangerous to human health.”

“It wasn't so much that they didn't know they were being poisoned, but to the extent in which they were being poisoned is what was really shocking for everyone," said Cultivando executive director Olga Gonzalez at the time. “I had mothers coming to us throughout the years with concerns about their children having nosebleeds and headaches and breathing problems and blaming themselves... It validates what mothers have been sharing. It validates their concerns, and makes them realize that they're not bad mothers, but rather we've had a refinery that is a bad neighbor.”

This decision from the EPA does not require Suncor to shut down its refinery in Commerce City. The refinery can continue to operate while CDPHE works through the new decision and considers changes to the permit.

Denver7 reached out to Suncor Energy about the decision, but did not hear back Tuesday evening. The company said in March it is “supportive of all air monitoring efforts” and is “committed to doing this work in a data-driven and collaborative way.”