Justice Department files civil complaint against shuttered oil refinery

Justice Department files civil complaint against shuttered oil refinery
© Greg Nash

The Justice Department on Monday filed a complaint against a controversial oil refinery in the U.S. Virgin Islands, arguing it poses an “imminent and substantial” risk to the environment and public health.

The department filed the complaint on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) along with a separate stipulation acknowledging the Limetree Bay Refinery is not currently operating. The company has already agreed to correct for any risks to public or environmental health and install hydrogen sulfide or sulfur dioxide monitors at nine monitoring stations before any operational restart.

The refinery, located on the island of St. Croix, had been inactive for years before resuming operations in February. The EPA later ordered the refinery shut down over reports it had rained oil vapor on residential areas on the island, which is largely Black and low-income. In a statement in June, Limetree Bay Energy announced the facility would remain shut down indefinitely after it could not find the necessary capital to resume operations.

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The initial EPA shutdown order required the refinery to shut down for 60 days, while the Monday complaint automatically extends it another 14 days. The EPA is seeking a formal injunction ordering the company to comply with the safety measures in the EPA order.

In the complaint, the Justice Department acknowledged that “the Refinery is not operating now” but cautioned that it “cannot be re-started or operated safely without Defendants first complying with the environmental and safety audit and compliance plan requirements set forth” in the EPA order.

“Today’s action and stipulation further strengthen our work to protect communities near this refinery by securing a binding commitment from the company that any restart of operations or initiation of long-term shutdown activities, such as purging gases, must receive EPA’s prior approval,” EPA acting Regional Administrator Walter Mugdan said in a statement. “These actions advance EPA’s commitment to environmental justice and to protect clean air for those living in vulnerable and overburdened communities.”

In a statement to The Hill, a Limetree Bay Energy spokesperson said, “Limetree is pleased to have entered into the Joint Stipulation agreement with EPA. This agreement will provide the basis for us to come together and work collaboratively to best accomplish our shared goal of safely and efficiently preparing the refinery for an extended shutdown.”

Updated at 5:28 p.m.