National community and conservation groups filed a legal appeal today against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) challenging the high pollution levels allowed for the Limetree Bay refinery operations and requesting better considerations for environmental justice on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.
The oil refinery, previously operating as HOVENSA, has historically had major pollution problems. Although Limetree Bay just began operations this week, during the months of start up preparations, there were multiple pollution incidents. The refinery’s pollution has the potential to greatly affect St. Croix’s public health and environment.
St. Croix Environmental Association (SEA), the Center for Biological Diversity, and Sierra Club, in collaboration with Natural Resources Defense Council, Vermont Law School’s Environmental Justice Clinic and The Neville Law Firm LLC, took action to contest the EPA permit. The coalition filed a petition for review of Limetree Bay’s Plantwide Applicability Limit (PAL) permit with the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board. The appeal faults the EPA for setting lenient pollution standards in the permit and failing to protect the citizens and environment of St. Croix, a vulnerable yet resilient community still recovering from two back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes as well as a COVID-impacted tourism economy.
“Climate change is real and we are living in an era where many countries are actively working towards clean and renewable energy. It is unfortunate that we are not taking advantage of the sun, the wind, and the ocean to create clean energy when those resources are abundantly available. The reality is that refining oil is a dying industry and it is very shortsighted that our politicians think that reviving the refinery is the only way to ‘save’ the island of St. Croix. In fact, reviving an oil refinery in the 21st century speaks to a lack of respect for people and nature and a lack of understanding and/or regard of historical and current world affairs. I am well aware that we live in a capitalist society, but history has shown that we have never been adequately compensated for having this destructive industry on a small Caribbean island. If the existence of the refinery allowed for functional healthcare, education, human services, utilities, infrastructure, and all of the other necessary community services, I might understand a desire to actually support the industry. But, we are far from there – and even then, I’m not sure that I could support the oil refinery,” Kemit Amon-Lewis, a marine scientist from St. Croix.
In November 2019, SEA filed comments that identified problems with the draft permit and advocated for the EPA to deny it. In less than a week, over 900 people commented on a change.org petition created by SEA. There is clear community concern for the impact that this refinery will have on the environment and their health. Specific concerns voiced by the community included protecting community health, especially for those living downwind of the facility; protecting St. Croix’s environment; the refinery’s perceived lack of accountability and transparency; and the economic impact that pollution would have on the tourism-based economy.
“The entire south shore of St. Croix is gone forever. It is the most polluted place in the Virgin Islands’ coastal waters. If senators had hiked with me on the south shore of St. Croix, they would have probably not voted for the agreement,” says Olasee Davis, ecologist, active Virgin Islander historian and environmental preservationist.
“The future of St. Croix should not be a pollution haven for a dying oil industry that contributed to the climate crisis. Our community is based on a lifestyle and well-being that is closely tied to clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment. We want to create a strong, resilient future based in sustainability. Going beyond value judgments on the refinery being ‘bad’ or ‘good,’ our coalition, made up of local and national experts, closely examined the permit to see whether EPA followed environmental laws and policies. In our appeal, we believe that the answer is ‘no’,” says Jennifer Valiulis, Executive Director of St. Croix Environmental Association.
The Trump administration relaxed environmental regulations in favor of polluters and helped fast-track approval to reopen the facility without properly assessing the effects that its operation will have on St. Croix’s people and environment. The Biden administration has not reviewed the permit yet.
The St. Croix community has already witnessed several pollution and facility incidents from Limetree, such as: an unscheduled hydrocarbon release, release flares, a fire on the site, failure to quickly and completely clean up littered polystyrene floats on the South Shore, and a lack of control over oil-contaminated stormwater after heavy rainfall.
St. Croix Environmental Association (SEA) is a US Virgin Islands, non-profit environmental organization dedicated to empowering St. Croix’s citizens to promote the conservation of environmental resources, provide education, and advocate for environmentally responsible actions that benefit St. Croix.