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Suncor Energy applies for permit to increase emissions at Commerce City oil refinery

Federal law requires Suncor and similar operators to renew air operating permits every five years
Posted at 10:14 PM, Jul 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-14 00:22:27-04

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. —- From air pollution to releasing chemicals in waterways, Suncor Energy has long been a source of controversy in Commerce City. Now, the company is looking to increase the amount of pollutants its oil refinery releases into the air.

On Wednesday, two public hearings were held in response to Suncor seeking a new air permit allowing the refinery to increase the amount of toxic pollutants by 90 tons.

Federal law requires operators like Suncor to file to renew an air operating permit every five years.

During the public hearing, a spokeswoman for the state's Air Pollution Control Division attempted to ease concerns about emissions.

"Most volatile or organic compound increases are not due to physical or operational changes, but instead are due to changes in emission estimates," the spokeswoman said.

Some environmentalists say any potential increase is too high of a cost.

"I really encourage the department to revise the draft air quality permit to reduce Suncor's annual emissions permits, not increase them," one woman said during the hearing.

In 2020, Suncor paid a $9 million settlement for air pollution violations. For years, many environmentalists have said Suncor's production has a disproportionate impact on low-income people of color.

Others, during the public hearing, made pleas in favor of Suncor's permit.

"Suncor is a big part of our domestic production and making Colorado an energy exporter, and contributing to our nation's energy independence," said a speaker. "I would encourage you to approve the permits in order to protect that energy security."

Despite the various viewpoints, during the public hearing, state regulars emphasized that if the Suncor permit complies with state and federal law, it will be issued.

A decision on the permit is expected by the fall. The permitting process has been covered extensively in this report by Noelle Phillips with our partners at The Denver Post.