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Governor orders DPNR to look into HOVENSA Water distribution

By DANIEL SHEA (Daily News Staff)
Published: December 13, 2010

HOVENSA is coming under greater scrutiny following Thursday’s release of hydrocarbons.

ST. CROIX – After the latest release of gases from the HOVENSA refinery, Gov. John deJongh Jr. has directed the commissioner of the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources to provide an operational assessment and recommendations on how the government can better monitor the emissions released into the air by the refinery.

Thursday’s release of hydrocarbons from HOVENSA was the fourth since mid-September. It caused sickness – vomiting, skin and eye irritation, dizziness – in nearly 200 students at St. Croix Central High School. The school closed early two days in a row as a result. At least 36 people went to Luis Hospital for treatment, the hospital said.

Since the release, a number of local politicians and community members have called for stricter monitoring of the air quality around and downwind from HOVENSA.

“I am very concerned by this string of emission incidents that we have witnessed since Sept. 17, and Thursday’s incident appeared to have been the most severe, causing several hundred people to seek medical attention,” deJongh said in a prepared statement.

The governor said he has directed DPNR Commissioner Robert Mathes to provide an assessment on steps that must be taken to “further enhance the government’s monitoring capabilities of the refinery” within 15 days. Mathes is also to talk with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about an operational assessment of the refinery.

In the past, government agencies have allowed HOVENSA to take the reins on any cleanup or remediation efforts after such releases. In fact, HOVENSA monitors its own emissions and provides the government with the only data available on how much gas and oil are released into the air.

That information is generally only released after an EPA-sanctioned threshold is broken.

Since Thursday’s incident, many have called for independent government monitoring of the refinery’s emissions, including V.I. Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen, Sens. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly and Sawn-Michael Malone, and St. Croix Environmental Association Executive Director Paul Chakroff.

Over the weekend, HOVENSA personnel cleaned up the hydrocarbons released Thursday that were deposited on Central High School, according to V.I. Education Department spokeswoman Juel Anderson.

DeJongh said he is also considering contracting an “oil refinery expert” to conduct an assessment of HOVENSA operations and to make an independent review of the impact on the lives and well-being of those who work at the refinery. He said he will wait for the results of talks among DPNR, HOVENSA and the EPA to make that move.

DPNR is preparing notices of violation for the four incidents, which will impose monetary fines against the refinery and require corrective action.

While speaking sternly about the mishaps at HOVENSA, the governor also alluded to the refinery’s massive economic impact in the territory, calling it an “extremely critical part of our economy.”

HOVENSA makes up close to 20 percent of the territory’s gross domestic product, according to V.I. Bureau of Economic Research Director Lauritz Mills.The V.I. Health Department is advising residents of Estate Clifton Hill and Fredensborg not to consume water from their cisterns until further notice.

 

Hovensa must cut Smog- and Asthma-causing emission by 8,500 tons per year

Nation’s Second Largest Refinery to Pay More Than $5.3 Million Penalty for Clean Air Act Violations / Smog- and asthma-causing emissions to be cut by 8,500 tons per year

Release date: 01/26/2011

Contact Information: Stacy Kika, kika.stacy@epa.gov, 202-564-0906, 202-564-4355

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice announced today that Hovensa LLC, owner of the second largest petroleum refinery in the United States, has agreed to pay a civil penalty of more than $5.3 million and spend more than $700 million in new pollution controls that will help protect public health and resolve Clean Air Act violations at its St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands refinery. The settlement requires new and upgraded pollution controls, more stringent emission limits, and aggressive monitoring, leak-detection and repair practices to reduce emissions from refinery equipment and process units.

“This settlement will produce significant benefits for the environment and for the people of the Virgin Islands,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “The commitments made by Hovensa to install state-of-the-art pollution controls will mean cleaner air for years to come.”

“This important settlement with the second largest refinery in the United States will result in significant improvements to human health and the environment of the United States Virgin Islands,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. “Because of this settlement, Hovensa will install advanced pollution control and monitoring technology, will adopt more stringent emissions limits, and will also create a fund dedicated to local environmental projects. This is another major step in our efforts, alongside EPA, to bring the petroleum refining sector into compliance with our nation’s environmental laws.”

The government’s complaint, filed concurrently with today’s settlement, alleged that the company made modifications to its refinery that increased emissions without first obtaining pre-construction permits and installing required pollution control equipment. The Clean Air Act requires major sources of air pollution to obtain such permits before making changes that would result in a significant emissions increase of any pollutant.

Once fully implemented, the pollution controls required by the settlement are estimated to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) by more than 5,000 tons per year and sulfur dioxide (SO2) by nearly 3,500 tons per year. The settlement will also result in additional reductions of volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, carbon monoxide and other pollutants that affect air quality. Additional pollution-reducing projects at the refinery’s coking unit under the settlement will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 6,100 tons per year.

High concentrations of SO2 and NOx, two key pollutants emitted from refineries, can have adverse impacts on human health, and are significant contributors to acid rain, smog, and haze.

The government of the U.S. Virgin Islands has joined in the settlement and will receive a portion of the civil penalty. In addition, the company will set aside nearly $4.9 million for projects to benefit the environment of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The projects will be identified jointly by the U.S. Virgin Islands government and Hovensa, in consultation with EPA.

The settlement with Hovensa is the 28th under an EPA initiative to improve compliance among petroleum refiners and to reduce significant amounts of air pollution from refineries nationwide through comprehensive, company-wide enforcement settlements. The first of EPA’s settlements was reached in 2000, and with today’s settlement, 105 refineries operating in 32 states and territories – more than 90 percent of the total refining capacity in the United States – are under judicially enforceable agreements to significantly reduce emissions of pollutants. As a result of the settlement agreements, refiners have agreed to invest about $6 billion in new pollution controls designed to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and other pollutants by over 360,000 tons per year.

Hovensa is one of the 10 largest refineries in the world and has the capacity to refine more than 525,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

The consent decree, lodged in the District Court of the Virgin Islands, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court approval.

More information on the Hovensa settlement:
www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/cases/civil/caa/hovensa.html

HOVENSA Fined for Violating Clean Air Pollution Regulations

EPA representative briefs V.I. Senate on HOVENSA

By DANIEL SHEA (Daily News Staff)
Published: January 27, 2011

ST. THOMAS – Just before the first break in the day’s proceedings Wednesday at a committee hearing in the V.I. Legislature, Sen. Alicia Hansen asked a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency representative to relay a bombshell piece of news to the senators and others present.

“This morning, a consent decree was lodged in the federal court in which HOVENSA was levied more than $5 million in penalties,” said EPA Caribbean Environmental Protection Division Director Carl-Axel Soderberg. “In addition, it has to pay more than a quarter million dollars to the Virgin Islands.”

The news of the filing of the consent decree, which Soderberg said had been in negotiation for more than five years, had been anticipated for weeks. But the recent string of chemical releases by the refinery pushed the matter to the forefront, causing the EPA and U.S. Justice Department to mandate and finalize the order, Soderberg said.

The news came as a surprise to a number of senators on the V.I. Senate’s Government Operations, Energy and Veterans Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday.

They said they knew that the EPA was working on resolving issues with HOVENSA but did not realize it was on such a large scale:

– The federal government fined HOVENSA $5.125 million for violating the Clean Air Pollution Regulations.

– $250,000 in fines is to be paid to the Virgin Islands.

– HOVENSA was ordered to establish an escrow fund of $4.875 million for supplemental environmental projects in the territory.

– HOVENSA has to invest $700 million in capital projects over the next decade to reduce its emissions.

“It definitely clarifies for us that HOVENSA has been in violation for some time with its emissions,” Sen. Terrence Nelson said.

V.I. senators have been speaking out in recent months after a series of chemical releases at HOVENSA highlighted what had been a long-standing problem, according to the decree.

Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly had drawn up a bill that would have created a similar escrow account that all territorial polluters would have to contribute to in order to fund a more robust DPNR monitoring program. Rivera-O’Reilly had drafted the bill even before a series of chemical releases began in September.

Shortly after the most serious incident on Dec. 9, when more than 250 students and staff at St. Croix Central High School reported sickness after a release of hydrocarbons from the refinery that morning, a number of other senators began to speak out against HOVENSA.

Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone said he wants to establish an air monitoring network on St. Croix and fund a health study to determine the long-term affect of the refinery’s emissions on the residents downwind. He reiterated his intentions at Wednesday’s hearing.

Sen. Usie Richards also agreed that the territory needs to find funding for studies to track and study the health affects on the community.

He said that the V.I. Health Department needs to be able to test the cisterns of residents, which is another contentious issue because HOVENSA has done the testing and provided its own results to the government.

“It is totally absent and the V.I. Code requires that the Department of Health has those capabilities,” Malone said.

The air-quality monitoring also has been left largely to HOVENSA, except for sporadic testing on the part of the EPA or follow-up testing done in response to a release, Soderberg said.

In addition, HOVENSA must submit quarterly reports on the maintenance of its facility, according to acting DPNR Commissioner Alicia Barnes.

But almost all of that information is gathered by HOVENSA and then submitted to the regulating agencies. And DPNR only has the staffing capability to perform audits on a three-year basis, officials have said.

DPNR will be in charge of monitoring HOVENSA’s progress with the decree, which could create a staffing issue for the department. There are grants, however, that could fund additional positions, Barnes said.

“The problem I have is that HOVENSA monitors itself,” Sen. Ronald Russell said.

A number of senators were under the impression that the EPA should have been monitoring or at least providing money for monitoring.

“It appears to me that the EPA doesn’t regulate with the same stringent measures that it uses in other states,” Nelson said.

Soderberg tried to dispel any such notion.

“The monitoring systems that have been established in the Virgin Islands are, as far as I know, the same as others that have been established in places like New Jersey and New York,” he said. “The EPA finances some of the establishment of these air-monitoring systems, and they are then run by the state agency.”

Currently, DPNR has only stationary monitors that test for particulate matter and lacks the equipment needed to determine the levels of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, hydrogen sulfide and hydrocarbons that can be released in refinery discharges.

Many senators have called out the EPA for not playing a greater role.

Sen. Louis Hill wrote a letter to the EPA requesting that the federal agency conduct a health study to determine how the refinery has affected residents’ health. Hill said that the territorial agencies do not have the expertise to monitor the massive refinery.

“This is the first time that I’ve known that the federal government has taken action like this with reference to HOVENSA,” Richards said.

Other senators have emphasized the importance of taking on HOVENSA from the territorial level.

“It should be the local government’s priority, not theirs,” Nelson said, referring to the federal government.

“We can’t wait for anyone else to do it for us. It’s time we start to be noticed here,” Nelson said. “HOVENSA contributes close to $900 million to the U.S. Treasury annually, and we are the ones that have to deal with the pollution.”

– Contact Daniel Shea at 774-8772 ext. 457 or e-mail dshea@dailynews.vi.
Read more: http://virginislandsdailynews.com/news/epa-representative-briefs-v-i-senate-on-hovensa-1.1096193#ixzz1Gd2PSdoW

 

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