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EPA, Citgo reach $4 million deal to end action over air pollution at Lemont refinery

By Dan Churney | Nov 14, 2016

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Federal regulators and Citgo have worked out an understanding, in which the oil giant has agreed to spend $4 million to reduce the discharge of air pollution from a refinery in suburban Lemont. 

A 95-page complaint was filed Nov. 10 in U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois in Chicago, by the U.S. Attorney General’s Office on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The suit alleged Houston-based Citgo has committed numerous breaches of the federal Clean Air Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. 

The alleged violations date from 2004 to the present, occurring at the 1,100-acre Lemont petroleum refinery, part of which reaches into Romeoville. 

The plant is one of three Citgo refineries and has operated since 1970. The company boasts it is proud of the plant’s “10 year record as one of the safest complex refineries in the country,” adding that nearly $1 billion has been put into the refinery to safeguard the environment by maintaining clean air and water. 

However, the EPA held Citgo has not run the plant with “good air pollution control practices for minimizing emissions,” including failure to operate “continuous emissions monitoring systems.” 

The EPA further alleged Citgo allowed “significant” emissions of “hazardous” and “extremely hazardous” substances, including hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide. 

A chief source of the alleged emissions are the five steam-assisted flares, which burn off gases – the familiar flaming chimneys that are often visible for miles around. Modifications to the refinery have also contributed to the alleged increase in pollution, according to the EPA. 

The EPA contended Citgo did not obtain certain permits and dropped the ball when it came to notifying the National Response Center of the emissions. Reports on hazardous discharges anywhere in the United States are to be directed to the center, which is staffed around the clock by the U.S. Coast Guard. In addition, the EPA alleged Citgo failed to inform state and local agencies. 

The same day the EPA complaint was filed against Citgo, a proposed agreement between the two parties was also filed. The agreement, or consent decree, would require Citgo to institute programs and modifications to tackle the problems pointed out by the EPA. The arrangement further directs Citgo to spend $650,000 to establish a discharge monitoring system along the plant’s perimeter, as well as $350,000 to install energy efficient lighting in local schools. 

In addition, Citgo will work to control a benzene waste stream, which it is otherwise not required to control, at a cost of $1.1 million. Finally, the company will fork over a civil penalty of $2 million.

The public will be given 30 days to comment on the proposed agreement. If information comes forward during this period that indicates the arrangement will fall short or is not in the public interest, federal authorities could withdraw the agreement. Barring any such development, steps would then be taken to put the arrangement into effect. 

U.S. District Judge Jorge L. Alonso is presiding over the case. 

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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)