Friends of the Earth and allies petition EPA to reject refinery’s secret tar sands expansion permit

Friends of the Earth, Communities for a Better Environment and allied groups are petitioning the U.S. EPA to revoke a permit for expanded refining of heavy oil at the Phillips 66 plant in Rodeo that was approved by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in a process that evaded public review.

The petition was announced by community and First Nation leaders during a protest at the air district’s headquarters on Monday, March 19. Protesters challenged the air district’s secret approvals of permits that facilitate oil-industry plans to import and refine tar sands oil.

The petition argues that the air district did not inform the public its permit would increase the refinery’s limited capacity to process heavy oils, disclosed no basis whatsoever for that permit change and approved the change without public notice after the official public commenting period expired. The air district has thus far declined to hold a public hearing on the changed permit.

“Allowing refineries to process increased amounts of tar sands exposes our communities and the environment to devastating and irreversible damage,” stated Camille Stough, a staff attorney with Communities for a Better Environment. “We are outraged to discover that such an allowance was issued without public notice or process. This is unacceptable and we intend to hold accountable those who concealed it from the public.”

“The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is allowing Big Oil to pull the strings behind the scenes to bring more dirty, climate-destroying tar sands oil to California for Phillips 66 to refine,” said Marcie Keever, legal director for Friends of the Earth. “This action puts our region and communities at an unacceptable risk of more pollution and oil spills and the Air District’s actions should be halted immediately.”

“A spill of tar sands in the Bay would be catastrophic,” said Ben Eichenberg, staff attorney for San Francisco Baykeeper. “Yet, Philips 66 and BAAQMD plan to bring tar sands to the Bay when they don’t know how to clean it up. The Bay should not be their testing ground for how to respond to a spill of tar sands crude.”

“Instead of making our air safe to breathe, the air district is slipping favors to polluters under the table,” said Hollin Kretzmann, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “To protect our communities and fight climate change, we need to rapidly move away from fossil fuels. Shipping dirty tar sands to Bay Area refineries would be a dangerous leap in the wrong direction.”

The Phillips 66 refinery, located in Rodeo, California, applied to renew its air emissions permit by submitting an application to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The air district posted the proposed permit on its website, but after the public comment period lapsed it changed the permit conditions to give Phillips 66 the ability to process significantly more “heavy” crudes, like Canadian tar sands. Community advocacy groups only discovered the change recently.

Phillips 66 uses two “hydrocracking,” units to process crude oil. Hydrocracking is a high-hazard process that operates at high temperatures and very high pressures to convert gas oil produced by upstream crude distillation and coking processes into lighter oils for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel production in hydrotreating, naphtha reforming and other downstream processes.

Across its fuel chain, tar sands oil imposes catastrophic health and environmental risks upon indigenous lands in Canada, the San Francisco Bay and communities near refineries. Because processing tar sands is extremely energy-intensive, increasing the quantity processed at the Phillips 66 refinery would worsen air pollution for area communities. Increased vessel traffic to and from the Rodeo refinery would also increase the risk of disastrous spills in San Francisco Bay.

Contact: Patrick Davis, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0744, [email protected]

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