Thousands of workers, union members, environmental activists and community members turned out Tuesday for DNREC's public hearing on the Delaware City Refinery's application to renew its five-year U.S. Clean Air Act Title V permit.
Workers at the Delaware City Refinery say the facility is more committed than ever to environmental protection and public safety.
But environmental groups say more steps should be taken to protect the surrounding community from potentially harmful pollution, including more stringent enforcement by state regulators.
Those were the central arguments offered by more than 50 people who spoke at the Delaware City Fire Company hall Tuesday, during a public hearing on refinery owner PBF Energy's application to renew its five-year U.S. Clean Air Act Title V permit.
Nearly 2,000 environmentalists, activists, union members, refinery officials and their supporters attended the hearing held by Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNEC), although most were forced to listen to the proceedings over loudspeakers from outside the fire hall.
"We are not here at this Title V permit hearing to demand that the refinery be shut down and we are not proposing that the state deny the refinery's Title V permit," said Amy Roe, the conservation chair of the Sierra Club's Delaware chapter, which requested Tuesday's hearing. "What we are asking for, and what we have always asked for, is that the Delaware City Refinery obey the law and that DNREC obey the law in its regulation and enforcement of air pollution rules and permits."
Delaware City resident Kristina Lynn said that includes giving adequate public notice regarding incidents such as the refinery's release of more than 263 tons of sulfer dioxide during two weeks in January, as well as last month's derailment of at least four train cars at the refinery's new crude-by-rail operation.
The sulfer dioxide went unreported for six months, while no public notice of the derailment was ever released, she said.
"This is unacceptable," she told DNREC officials. "We need real-time fenceline air quality monitoring at the refinery and real-time reporting."
In addition to fenceline monitoring, members of the Sierra Club, the Delaware Audobon Society and Green Party of Delaware have also called for DNREC to add conditions to the approval of the refinery's Title V permit, including requirements that it develop enhanced emergency response plans, greater limits on emissions and better regulation of petroleum byproducts, among others.
"I'm listening to Delaware City Refinery say they have best practices," retired teacher Judy Winters said. "I say if you do you don't have to lower any standards. It's time to raise them and be the model for refineries in this county."
Refinery officials, workers and union representatives, meanwhile, insisted they and PBF Energy, which purchased the refinery in 2010, have done more to reduce the facility's environmental impact and protect area residents than any of its previous owners. They also argued that the environmental groups were endangering jobs by spreading misinformation and opposing reauthorization of the refinery's permit.
"The most responsible, the best corporate citizen in this refinery over the past 32 years is the people who are running it now," said Harry Gravell, the president of the Delaware Building and Construction Trades Council. "There have been some glitches, I admit. But those glitches are over publicized."
Tom Godlewski, who works in the environmental department at the refinery and said he wrote the refinery's permit application, testified that the refinery is currently operating with lower emissions than at any time in its 56-year history.
"My comments [are] to prevent undo hardships being place on the refinery as we use our valuable time and resources to deal with not germane and seemingly malignant agendas by a very local minority," he said. "The hullabaloo around [the Title V permit] is mindboggling."
Andy Woerner, a chemical engineer and partner with the consulting firm Environmental Resources Management, said additional air quality monitoring is not warranted given that current monitoring has not shown any chronic violations of state and federal limits.
"In fact, recent air monitoring and DNREC's ongoing and historic monitoring show the air quality is good and better than it has ever been," he said. "Any additional monitoring at the fenceline or otherwise would result in a large expense of money simply to confirm what is already known."
The public comment period on the Delaware City Refinery's permit request will remain open for another 30 days, after which DNREC Secretary Colin O'Mara is expected to issue a ruling on the application.
Roe said Tuesday's public hearing was a success, regardless of whether the environmental groups' requested conditions are added to the refinery's permit.
"Regulators had to sit and listen for almost four hours as people talk about what matters to them … whether it was the refinery, the workers, the citizens who live around Delaware and New Castle or the environmental community," she said. "What I think is unfortunate is that the topic was framed in a very antagonistic way and that is a tactic that fossil fuel companies use to get their way."