COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (KDVR) — Suncor is being sent back to the drawing board in regard to its Environmental Protection Agency operating permits.

In the last few years, Suncor has had a number of troubles from a fire and a flood to reports of high levels of acid gas flaring and tail gas incidents.

The EPA issued an order responding to two public petitions objecting to the renewal of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Clean Air Act Title V operating permit for Plant 2.

The petitions voice environmental concerns about the operations at the Suncor refinery in Commerce City.

One petition was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Elyria and Swansea Neighborhood Association, Cultivando, Colorado Latino Forum, GreenLatinos, Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club. The second petition was filed by 350 Colorado.

EPA’s action denies 350 Colorado’s petition and partially grants and partially denies Earthjustice’s petition, requiring CDPHE to resolve EPA’s objections before issuing a revised permit. 

CDPHE is the permitting authority for Suncor, so it’s their responsibility to revise the plant’s permit. So, CDPHE has to fix the EPA’s changes before another revised permit is issued.

While they’re addressing the issues though, Suncor can still operate Plant 2.

“Improving air quality for the underserved communities affected by harmful air emissions from the Suncor refinery is a shared priority for EPA and CDPHE,” said EPA Regional Administrator KC Becker. “EPA will continue to work with Colorado to secure the refinery’s compliance with laws and regulations and protect the health of nearby residents.”  

The EPA’s order said they need to evaluate whether the plant is in compliance with carbon monoxide and opacity limits at Suncor’s fluid catalytic cracking unit and to make sure previous plant modifications were done properly.

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Climate subcommittee, issued the following statement on EPA’s decision to block the issuance of a state air quality permit to Suncor’s refinery in Commerce City:

“Blocking this permit is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done to hold Suncor accountable for the untold amount of toxins it is spewing into our air. We need all levels of government working together to protect the health and wellbeing of our citizens – and that includes requiring that Suncor immediately take the actions necessary to reduce its harmful emissions that are polluting our communities and putting people’s health at risk,” said DeGette.

A back-and-forth process has been ongoing since Feb. 9, 2022, when CDPHE submitted the proposed renewal of the Title V operating permit for Plant 2 to the EPA.

The EPA’s order is posted on the agency’s Environmental Justice in Commerce City- North Denver web page.

Depending on the nature of the changes CDPHE makes to the permit, the revisions may involve additional public notice and comment.

The proposed permit will be sent to the EPA for a 45-day review period. If the EPA does not object to the revisions during that period, the public will have another 60-day opportunity to petition the EPA to object to the revised portions of the permit and permit record.