July 7, 2023 [The Detroit News]- Marathon Petroleum Co. has applied for a permit that would allow it to operate its Detroit refinery at full capacity, citing a significant increase in demand for its products since the coronavirus pandemic abated.
The move could increase emissions from the facility but would be paired with pollution reduction projects to offset those increases, the company said in its application submitted May 31.
The pollution reduction projects would be legally enforceable if they are made part of a permit, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy said. The department is still reviewing the application but released a summary of the proposal on June 30.
Marathon’s proposed emissions reductions projects include:
- Replacing unit heaters with models that are equipped with ultra-low nitrous oxide burners.
- Removing the crude flare from service.
- Installing a dome over a gasoline storage tank that would limit volatile organic compounds, toxic air contaminants and other pollutants.
- Expanding the leak detection and repair program to cover more of the refinery.
Marathon spokesperson Christina Cisneros Guzman said those projects were developed specifically to negate potential increases resulting from operating the refinery at full capacity and could reduce the facility’s overall emissions.
“Marathon Petroleum Corporation and its Detroit Refinery are proud to be a part of the community where we live and work,” she said in a statement. “We are committed to protecting our personnel, the community, and the environment we all share.”
Cisneros Guzman said operating the refinery at full capacity will help the company meet consumer demand. It would not result in a change in staffing levels.
Nick Leonard, executive director at Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, said the big question is how much enforcement power EGLE will have over those projects and their implementation timeline.
“How are these emissions reductions made enforceable in some form or fashion, and how is the gap between the removal of the throughput limit and the implementation of these emissions reductions projects shortened to the best degree possible?” Leonard said.
In its application, the company asked EGLE to allow it to increase capacity immediately upon the department’s approval of its request, but said its goal for finishing the emissions reduction projects is Dec. 31, 2025.
Leonard said he also is concerned that the company’s proposal to cap annual emissions will lead to short-term spikes.
Rhonda Anderson, a Sierra Club environmental justice organizer in Detroit, said she is concerned about whether the proposed increase would add dangerous emissions like lead or sulfur dioxide to the nearby air, which already is out of attainment for sulfur dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act.
“Ultimately, the question remains, if going to full capacity means more toxic emissions, then no,” Anderson said.
Marathon in its application said the project would remain within state regulations for sulfur recovery operations.
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy has not yet opened the public comment period for this application. The comment period will last for at least 30 days.
Marathon paid fines in 2021
Marathon has a history of violating its air permits. The company paid nearly $82,000 in fines and put more than $500,000 into community benefits projects in 2021 as the result of a consent agreement with EGLE.
The previous year, the state environmental department alleged Marathon had violated its permit between 2017 and 2019 by exceeding its emission limits for particulate matter and hydrogen sulfide, emitting air contaminants “that caused unreasonable interference with the comfortable enjoyment of life and property,” failing to monitor two of its flares and more.
Most of the $500,000-plus community benefits funding went toward installing an air filtration at Mark Twain School for Scholars, which is roughly two blocks from the refinery, with Interstate 75 between them.
Activists from southeast Michigan, including the neighborhood around the Marathon refinery, say residents are hurt by pollution released by facilities that are concentrated in their communities. They are calling on regulators and lawmakers to regulate emissions based on the cumulative impact of pollution in an area, not only to regulate each facility’s individual emissions.
“Instead of looking at point source, one industry, maybe even one toxin like sulfur dioxide, we should be calculating all of the releases from all of the industries,” Anderson said. “It’s not just one source, it’s all of them together, which creates this … super-monster.”
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