The decision is a victory for the citizens and environmental groups who petitioned the EPA to object to the permit in August 2008 on the grounds that it did not accurately account for the large increases in air pollution that would be caused by BP's expansion of the refinery.
Located on the southern shore of Lake Michigan, the refinery is capable of processing 410,000 barrels of crude oil per day and is the fourth largest refinery in the United States.
In August 2008, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, Natural Resources Defense Council, Hoosier Environmental Council, Save the Dunes and Sierra Club petitioned the EPA to formally object to the state's modification of BP's operating permit for an expansion project to refine high-sulfur Canadian crude oil.
EPA had reviewed the state's permit before it was issued and worked with Indiana to address several areas of concern. The permit modification was subject to public comment, but the Clean Air Act also provides an additional opportunity for the public to request that EPA review specific matters.
BP Whiting refinery (Photo by Heather Phillips)
Upon this further review, EPA said Monday that it agrees with the petitioners that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, IDEM, did not adequately respond to public comment and that information on some of BP's emissions may have been omitted.
Specifically, questions must be answered about emissions from flares, residual emissions from vessel depressurization, increased emissions from coking and coke drum depressurization, fugitive emissions from reduced sulfur compounds and emission factors to account for higher-sulfur crude.
BP began a major expansion of the Whiting Refinery in 2008 in order to process 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 air pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter.
In addition, the petitioners say, the expansion would create approximately as much new global warming pollution as a new 300-400 megawatt coal plant, about a 40 percent increase from current refinery levels.
"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."
EPA did not conclude that the net emissions increase from the project trigger the major modification threshold.
Still, the federal agency said that IDEM must fully respond to the specific questions raised by the petitioners and re-evaluate the emissions calculations for this project.
If the state agency concludes that the threshold is triggered, any new requirements developed by IDEM to meet Clean Air Act requirements must be incorporated into the BP operating permit.
"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.”
EPA denied the petitioners' claims regarding the venting of uncontrolled pressure relief valves, best available control technology for greenhouse gas emissions, and the need for a compliance schedule.
IDEM has 90 days to reconsider the permit, revise it as appropriate and submit a proposed permit to the EPA.
Hoosier Environmental Council Executive Director Jesse Kharbanda said, "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."
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