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Saturday, June 12, 2021

EPA shut down St. Croix refinery after oil rained on houses

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“The odor was so sturdy, like sulfur, like rotten eggs,” the 58-year-old homemaker recalled.

Then oil was found in her yard in mid-Might. Two days earlier, a flare incident occurred on the Limetree Bay refinery upwind of Thomas’s residence. As flames and smoke billowed out of the flare stack, oil droplets have been launched into the sky, carried west by the wind and rained down on close by houses.

In a press release despatched to CNN, Limetree Bay stated it intends to cooperate with the EPA and the native authorities in “making ready for a secure and compliant restart of the refinery.”

Now St. Croix, a majority Black neighborhood within the Caribbean, is weighing its financial future towards the well being and environmental impacts of betting huge on oil.

The refinery has been a key supply of jobs and income for an economic system battered by hurricanes and the pandemic. However among the islands’ 50,000 residents are questioning whether or not the value is simply too excessive, notably for a neighborhood on the entrance strains of the local weather change disaster within the type of sea degree rise and more and more highly effective storms.

“We’re at a crossroads,” stated Jennifer Valiulis, the chief director of the St. Croix Environmental Affiliation, who has been important of the plant’s operation. “We’ve got a possibility to look at what we would like our economic system to appear to be, what we would like St. Croix to be in a world that is transferring away from fossil fuels as its main vitality supply.”

For many years, residents of this 84-square-mile island, the biggest of the three main U.S. Virgin Islands, have co-existed with main industrial manufacturing. The refinery first opened in 1966, and — below the administration of Hess Company after which Hovensa — boosted its Virgin Islander workforce into the center class.

However the environmental and well being tolls grew. In 2011, the Hovensa petroleum refinery — on the time the county’s second-largest — reached a settlement with the EPA to pay greater than $5.3 million for environmental violations.

The plant later closed and filed for chapter. With its shutdown went greater than 2,000 jobs.

Earlier this yr, the ability — backed by personal fairness corporations — resumed operations as Limetree Bay below a allow granted by the Trump administration with a plan to supply some 200,000 barrels of oil a day.

Virginia Clairmont, who runs a nonprofit working to revitalize the city of Frederiksted on the island’s western finish, informed CNN she had misgivings in regards to the refinery restarting within the first place. After a number of incidents, she needs it closed.

However, she stated, “in case you speak about it, you may be attacked for attempting to deprive different individuals of jobs.”

The coronavirus pandemic solely added to the islands’ financial woes, shutting down a cruise trade that brings in additional than 1.4 million vacationers per yr. Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the Virgin Islands in 2017, and the islands nonetheless bear the scars: a sailboat tossed like a toy on the shore; a tattered blue tarp over a lacking roof, disintegrating within the relentless tropical solar.

On St. Croix, the plant restart created some 400 full-time jobs. Authorities officers estimate the operation may generate about $7 million in annual tax income.

Nellie Rivera-O’Reilly, a jewellery retailer proprietor on St. Croix and former legislator, was among the many native senators who voted to approve the plant’s reopening. “As a enterprise proprietor now, I see the advantages of the refinery, or any employer of that magnitude, remaining viable on the island of St. Croix,” she stated.

Lawmakers have been notably involved about well being and security, she stated, and allotted cash for rigorous environmental monitoring.

“These items occur in a lot of these industries,” Rivera-O’Reilly added. “The factor to do is to verify we be taught and put in place measures to forestall this from taking place.”

The Limetree Bay refinery is seen from above in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, Thursday, March 18, 2021.

EPA officers say they’ve obtained a whole lot of calls and emails complaining in regards to the plant since February. Tysha Henry, who grew up on St. Croix, was among the many callers.

Henry, an HR supervisor in Atlanta, was visiting her mom on the island in Might when she stated an overwhelming gasoline odor jolted her awake in the course of the night time.

“It felt like I used to be going to asphyxiate or one thing,” she stated. The odor abated inside an hour however the subsequent morning, she stated, her eyes and face have been swollen and puffy.

“I cannot be going again residence so long as this odor is there,” stated Henry.

Lawsuits representing a whole lot of residents have been filed towards the refinery in latest weeks.
The EPA’s shutdown order, which was handed down at a second environmental advocacy teams are urgent the Biden administration to deliver environmental justice to communities of colour, is simply the fourth time the company has used its emergency powers to quickly shut a plant.
It got here two days after the refinery introduced it was halting manufacturing by itself after the Might 12 flare incident that spewed oil on houses west of the ability — houses the place residents catch rainwater on their roofs and retailer it in below-ground cisterns for ingesting, bathing and cooking. The order requires impartial audits of the refinery’s operations and its skill to adjust to “environmental, well being and security limits.”

“This already overburdened neighborhood has suffered by way of at the least 4 latest incidents which have occurred on the facility, and every had an instantaneous and vital well being impression on individuals and their property,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan stated in a press release asserting the emergency motion.

Limetree CEO Jeffrey Rinker described the federal order as illegal and “pointless” as a result of the plant already had idled operations voluntarily. The firm argues there is no proof that their plant is the supply of among the noxious odors, noting {that a} government-run landfill due west of the refinery had caught hearth in early Might and will have contributed to the foul smells.
Activist investor ousts at least two Exxon directors in historic win for pro-climate campaign

Within the assertion despatched to CNN, Limetree Bay officers stated: “We’ve got no plans to restart the refinery earlier than it’s secure to take action.”

“However a few of our struggles throughout this restart interval, we stay dedicated to being a very good neighbor and accountable member of the St. Croix neighborhood,” they stated.

When the refinery reopened as Limetree in February, Virgin Islands Gov. Albert Bryan, Jr., a Democrat, heralded it as a “huge victory for St. Croix” and the broader US territory.

“In these tough financial occasions, I’m very happy that the Refinery is creating a whole lot of well-paying, high quality jobs,” he stated in a press release.

Aides to Bryan didn’t reply to requests for an interview, however Bryan referred to as the flare incident “completely unacceptable.”

He expressed hope, nevertheless, that the plant officers “can rectify regardless of the points are and resume operations.”

Thomas, the girl who had oil in her yard and stated she had a response to noxious fumes, stated the smells that bothered her for weeks have eased, for the reason that closing of the refinery.

Since then, she stated, the refinery operators have washed her autos, given her three circumstances of bottled water and promised to get again in contact about oil that will have contaminated her cistern.

As unsettling because the incidents have been, Thomas stated she does not need the plant to close down completely. It “brings a variety of jobs right here,” she stated. “I might not need them to shut.”

“However I would like them to take extra precautions,” Thomas added. “You’ll be able to have all the cash on the earth, however you’ll be able to’t take pleasure in it when you’ve got no well being.”

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