Suncor Permit Becomes Effective with Petition Deadline Oct. 11

By Eric Heinz

As of Sept. 1, the Plant 2 operations permit for the Suncor Refinery in Commerce City is effective, after the Environmental Protection Agency asked for a resubmission of the permit application.

The Colorado Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) issued Suncor’s Plant 2 permit in August, which is required under the Clean Air Act to ensure public health is protected, after the EPA stated it would not object.

“The first time the division submitted the Plant 2 permit to the Environmental Protection Agency for review, it directed the division to make a revision to include monitoring requirements for two flares and one vapor combustor in a Compliance Assurance Monitoring plan,” Kate Malloy, a spokesperson for the APCD, wrote in an email to The G.E.S. Gazette.

The Title V permit public petition period began on Aug. 9 and ends Oct. 11. Under this process, the public can submit a petition to object to a Title V permit to the EPA Administrator. If a petition is received, the EPA is required to review and respond by granting or denying the individual issues raised which could result in additional permit changes and public notice, comment, and EPA review, said Richard Mylott, a spokesperson for the EPA’s District 8 region.

The Colorado branch of Wildearth Guardians, an environmental advocacy organization, initially sued to have the permitting process expedited after noticing the permits were sitting idle in the state’s review process.

“That was just a suit to try to make sure that the state followed through with its legal duty to actually update these permits and not continue to drag its feet along,” said Jeremy Nichols, a spokesperson for the Guardians. “It’s what we would call a deadline lawsuit, but it’s still very significant because these permits are pretty outdated, and it’s very clear that changes are needed at the refinery.”

Calls and emails to Suncor were not returned before the Gazette‘s print deadline.

Nichols said because the Title V permits are intended to ensure refineries and other polluting energy plants operate within compliance 100 percent of the time, he had doubts Suncor could accomplish that based on its track record.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in 2020 announced a $9 million settlement for air pollution violations at the Suncor Refinery in Commerce City, which occurred between 2017 and 2019.

In 2018, the state records showed the Suncor Refinery released 8.5 tons of hydrogen cyanide in nearby neighborhoods.

“As much as the state made some improvements and some updates, it was still very disappointing that they did not seem to take an objective approach to assessing whether Suncor could actually operate within compliance,” Nichols said. “It seems to be business as usual.”

The APCD is still reviewing applications for Suncor’s Plant 1 and 3 permits for which public comment was held through mid-July, and the division is still working on preparing written responses to feedback received during the comment period.

The division does not yet have a date for when it will send that response, Malloy said. After the division submits the Plants 1 and 3 draft permit and responses to the EPA, it will have 45 days to review the permit.

Malloy said separately from the permitting process, APCD recently required Suncor to update its fenceline monitoring plan, which means the plant must monitor for certain covered air toxins around the facility.

Fenceline monitoring is a new requirement for certain facilities under Colorado’s Air Toxics Act (HB21-1189), which Gov. Jared Polis signed into law in 2021.

Title V permits gather all applicable laws and regulations into one place, which includes the fenceline monitoring requirements, Malloy said.

The Air Toxics Act wasn’t finalized at the time when the division put the Plant 2 permit out for public comment, Malloy said, but the division did include fenceline monitoring requirements in the Plants 1 and 3 permit.

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