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Suncor settles with EPA over clean air violations, will pay $760,000 in related penalties

As part of the settlement, Suncor will spend at least $600,000 purchasing or subsidizing electric lawn equipment for residents, schools and local government.

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Suncor Energy will pay civil penalties and public subsidies totaling $760,000 after the Environmental Protection Agency announced a settlement with the Commerce City refinery for air pollution violations Wednesday. 

The EPA said in a news release that the settlement is the resolution of "alleged violations of the Clean Air Act's fuels requirements at Suncor's Commerce City, Colorado refining operations."

According to the EPA, the settlement resolves claims relating to the benzene content and Reid vapor pressure (RVP) of gasoline that Suncor produced. In 2021, Suncor produced over 32 million gallons of gasoline at its Commerce City East Refinery with an average benzene concentration of 1.77 volume percent, which was above the maximum 1.30 volume percent standard. 

The EPA said in June 2022, Suncor produced over 1 million gallons of summer gasoline at its Commerce City West Refinery with an RVP of 7.9 pounds per square inch (psi), which was above the 7.8 psi standard. Suncor notified the EPA about both violations.

In a statement late Wednesday, Suncor said it self-reported the two fuels-related issues. The company denied introducing excess benzene into the environment and claims the volumes at the refinery's East and West Plans combined were below the standard.

"We have revised our internal processes to prevent such a violation from reoccurring in the future at the East Plant," a spokesperson wrote in a statement.  

The company has agreed to the settlement with the EPA.

Suncor will pay a $160,660 civil penalty and has agreed to implement a supplemental environmental project which requires the company to spend at least $600,000 purchasing or subsidizing the purchase of electric lawn and garden equipment that will be provided to residents, schools and local governments in the Commerce City/Denver area, according to the EPA. 

Examples of equipment include "zero-emission residential and commercial lawn mowers, leaf blowers, trimmers, edgers, cutters, and chainsaws, as well as battery-packs, chargers, and accessories that are necessary to support use of the electric equipment."

Residents from Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas, Jefferson, Larimer and Weld counties can receive the electric equipment. 

The EPA also requires Suncor to scrap or destroy the gasoline- or diesel-powered lawn and garden equipment that will be replaced by the electric equipment.

The environmental project will reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including benzene, as well as nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and greenhouse gases, according to the EPA. VOCs include a variety of chemicals that may produce adverse health effects such as eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, and damage to the liver, kidney and the central nervous system. 

VOCs also contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone. Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems, particularly for children, the elderly and anyone with lung diseases such as asthma. Vegetation and ecosystems suffer harmful effects from ground-level ozone. 

The Regional Air Quality Council (RAQC) will manage how those settlement funds are spent, through its existing Mow Down Pollution Program.

"We are the recipient of the monies with the understanding we deploy good air pollution control programs and practices that actually achieve emissions reductions," said Mike Silverstein, executive director of RAQC. "It's an attempt for the organization that was under penalty to make right, in a way, what occurred at their facility."

Silverstein said the $600,000 will be divided between a residential program and local government grant program, which will help school districts and parks departments, for example, electrify their equipment. Eligibility for the government program extends to counties across the Front Range (Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas, Jefferson, Larimer, and Weld counties). Within the residential program, Silverstein said homeowners living closest to the refinery in Commerce City will be get highest priority to receive funding.

"We have a summertime ozone pollution problem. Lawn and garden equipment are a significant contributor to those emissions that cause ground level ozone. A gas powered mower, running it for an hour, is like driving a vehicle 100 miles. So just an hour of use of a typical push gas powered mower – it really does result in a lot of emissions," Silverstein said.

"So the goal of the program is to remove these gas powered devices form our region in the summer months when it counts."


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