Environmental groups challenge EPA permit for Limetree Bay refinery after controversial plant reopens News
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Environmental groups challenge EPA permit for Limetree Bay refinery after controversial plant reopens

Conservation advocacy groups filed an appeal Wednesday to the Environmental Appeals Board challenging the EPA permit for one of the nation’s largest refineries, which reopened last week after previous controversies prompted an 8-year shutdown.

The Limetree Bay refinery, located on the US Virgin Island of St. Croix, has a history of harmful environmental practices. The former Hovensa facility, jointly owned by Hess and Petroleos de Venezuela, leaked at least 42 million gallons of petroleum into local groundwater between 1978 and 2008. The refinery shuttered in 2012 following a settlement over claims that Hovensa violated the Clean Air Act by making modifications to the facility that increased emissions without authorization from the EPA. They initially agreed to implement new pollution-control measures and pay $4.9 million to rehabilitate the local environment, but ultimately closed due to lost profits and refused to pay.

The US Virgin Islands sued Hess in 2015 for “conspir[ing] to strip the facility’s assets in order to leave the government with claims against a broke, polluted and inoperable refinery.” Hovensa filed for bankruptcy shortly after, and Limetree purchased the plant.

Negotiations to resume operations began in 2018 under the Trump administration. The EPA granted Limetree a Plantwide Applicability Limit (PAL) permit rather than considering it a “new source” of pollution. This allows the plant to avoid complying with updated technology requirements imposed on new facilities.

Environmental groups including the St. Croix Environmental Association, Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity allege that the EPA should have classified the Limetree Bay plant as a new source given its years of shutdown and that the permit allows “impermissibly high emissions caps.”

The appeal also claims that Limetree disregarded concerns about the disproportionate impact the plant would have on nearby Black communities. None of the documents made available for public comment were published in languages other than English. Finally, environmental advocates claim that resuming refinery operations will threaten several endangered species in the area.

The appeal requests the permit be vacated.