For Immediate Release, May 14, 2014


Anne Mariah Tapp, Grand Canyon Trust, (512) 565-9906,
John Weisheit, Living Rivers, (435) 260-2590,
Tim Wagner, Sierra Club, (801) 502-5450,
Randi Spivak, Center for Biological Diversity, (310) 779-4894,

Utah OKs Oil Refinery Construction Before Examining Impacts on Public Health,
Pollution, Iconic National Parks

Refinery, Approved Without Permit, Would Be Utah's First in 30 Years

SALT LAKE CITY— Disregarding laws meant to protect public health, the environment and national parks, the Utah Division of Air Quality has given Emery Refining permission to build Utah’s first new oil refinery in 30 years. Approval was given even though the project has not been given a permit, public and environmental reviews have not been conducted, and the agency has not determined whether the refinery complies with pollution laws. The refinery in eastern Utah would be within miles of Canyonlands and Arches national parks, two of the state’s most popular tourist destinations.

Conservation groups today called on state officials to prohibit construction pending final permitting.

“State and federal law are clear: Construction must follow permitting, and permitting must follow public and environmental review,” said Anne Mariah Tapp with Grand Canyon Trust. “Turning that scheme on its head reveals the deeper problem of Utah heeding oil interests over public and environmental health.”

Utah is allowing Emery to proceed with construction under a 2013 permit originally issued for a now-abandoned refinery proposal. After conservation groups challenged that permit over unlawful pollution, Emery proposed a new refinery design. Under Utah law the company should have to wait for a new permit for the new design. Instead the state gave Emery approval to build its new refinery under the inapplicable 2013 permit. The groups’ legal challenge to the original permit is still pending before an administrative law judge.

“Air quality for the downwind communities of eastern Utah has been worsening, and it’s just a short matter of time before the limits of pollution are exceeded. Energy companies need to invest in a clean-energy economy, because this business-as-usual approach to energy development is destined to damage our health, the water cycle of this important watershed, and the enjoyment of this landscape’s superlative scenery,” said John Weisheit of Living Rivers.

“Utahns should be outraged at the state fast-tracking Emery’s refinery plans,” said Stephen Bloch with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The Division of Air Quality has its priorities backwards when it puts streamlining Emery’s permit ahead of its duty to protect the environment and human health.”

Conservation groups’ comments on Emery’s new design point out several major problems in the state’s draft permit for the new design. The state failed to perform mandatory dispersion modeling and impact analysis of hazardous air pollutants, including benzene, toluene, hexane and ethylbenzene; it sharply underestimated emissions from volatile organic compounds and greenhouse gas emissions; and it failed to analyze visibility impacts to Canyonlands and Arches national parks and impacts to endangered fish like Colorado pikeminnow in the Green River.

“Millions of people flock to Utah for the magnificent public lands, national parks and wildlife,” said Randi Spivak with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Putting a toxic oil refinery smack in the middle of some of America’s most stunning landscapes will pollute the air and endanger the health of park visitors and wildlife.”

Emery’s newest refinery plan comes as Grand County officials promote an oil transportation corridor connecting Green River to the oil, oil shale and tar sands deposits atop the Book Cliffs. Increasingly the refinery appears to be one part of a bigger scheme to industrialize Utah’s wildlands for high-carbon fossil fuel extraction.

“Utah’s biggest draw and economic engine, our majestic wildlands, is being transformed into a dirty energy wasteland before our very eyes,” said Tim Wagner of the Sierra Club. “In spite of recent double-digit growth in Utah’s outdoor recreation and tourism economies and the overwhelming evidence of the impacts to Utah from climate change, Utah’s leaders continually demonstrate their lack of regard for anyone or anything but short-term profits.”

Utah’s air-quality rules explicitly provide for a pre-construction public comment period and a public hearing and mandate that “the director will consider all comments received during the public comment period and at the public hearing and, if appropriate, will make changes to the proposal in response to comments before issuing an approval order or disapproval order” (R307-401-7(3)). The rules further require new sources of air pollution to obtain an approval order “prior to initiation of construction,” which is defined as “any physical change or change in the method of operation (including fabrication, erection, installation, demolition, or modification of an emissions unit) that would result in a change of emissions” (R306-401-2). 

The rules ensure that the Division of Air Quality will consider and mitigate environmental and public-health effects of emissions before the company commits resources to a project. See R307-401-7 (1), (2) – Public Notice (“prior to issuing an approval or disapproval order…the director’s analysis of the notice of intent proposal, and the proposed approval order conditions will be available for public inspection.”); see also R307-401-7 (3) (“the director will consider all comments received during the public comment period and at the public hearing and, if appropriate, will make changes to the proposal in response to comments before issuing an approval order or disapproval order”).

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