Energy & Environment

EPA orders St. Croix refinery to shut down for 60 days due to 'imminent threat' to islanders' health

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Friday announced that it had ordered a U.S. Virgin Islands oil refinery to close for at least 60 days due to concerns that its operations were posing an "imminent risk to public health." 

EPA Administrator Michael Regan in a press release unveiling the move said operations at Limetree Bay's St. Croix refinery will be paused "until we can be assured that this facility can operate in accordance with laws that protect public health." 

The refinery has been the subject of controversy in recent months after the Trump administration in December approved the plant's reopening following a series of spills and accidents that resulted in $5 million in EPA fines and the plant's closure in 2012. 

Since the refinery began operating again in February, it has showered oil on residents of the largely low-income community surrounding the refinery, as well as released sulfuric gases and hydrocarbons into the air, according to the EPA. 

The agency said that the air pollutants and oil releases have "sickened" many members of the St. Croix community. 

"These repeated incidents at the refinery have been and remain totally unacceptable," Regan said Friday. 

"This already overburdened community has suffered through at least four recent incidents that have occurred at the facility, and each had an immediate and significant health impact on people and their property," he added. "EPA will not hesitate to use its authority to enforce the law and protect people from dangerous pollution where they work, live, and play."

The EPA said that Limetree Bay on Wednesday temporarily suspended operations after "a serious incident that led to exceedance of the emission limit for sulfur dioxide (SO2), a potent toxic gas, endangering the health of nearby communities." 

Under the temporary closure order, Limetree must pause all refining operations, organize an independent audit of the facility and submit to the EPA for approval a plan to address areas for improvement at the refinery. 

The order can be extended past the initial 60 days through a civil action court filing by the U.S. government, the EPA said Friday. 

In March, the EPA revoked an expansion permit that had been granted to the Limetree Bay refinery in 2020 until the agency reviewed "what measures are required at the Limetree facility to safeguard the health of local communities in the Virgin Islands." 

Four environmental organizations had asked the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board to review the Limetree Bay expansion permit, arguing that the Trump administration failed to address "the disproportionate burden that an environmental justice community will bear and it failed to provide multi-lingual access to information." 

The Hill has reached out to Limetree Bay for comment on Friday's order.

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