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Utah physicians oppose refinery expansion

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Posted at 7:15 PM, Mar 06, 2013
and last updated 2013-03-07 10:09:13-05

WOODS CROSS, Utah -- Activists don't think the Holly Frontier Oil Refinery's pledge to cut its carbon footprint is sincere. In fact, they call it misleading, and say if their permit to expand is approved, they'll sue.

The Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment is firing back, saying the refinery's efforts to cut emissions is because they were legally required to, by the EPA. Holly Frontier say while that may be true, they still claim they can expand the refinery without adding pollution. Another environmental group is also chiming in, saying Holly should just leave the Wasatch Front.

"They are skewing the data," says Dr. Brian Moench with Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

Holly Frontier gave FOX 13 a tour of their facility Tuesday. (Read more about the tour here.) Moench says the improvements Holly Frontier touted on the tour were all requirements negotiated between the EPA and the refinery.

The Utah Division of Air Quality told FOX 13 the "consent decree" was a legal agreement made back in 2008. The Environmental Protection Agency claimed Holly violated federal standards, and essentially said make changes to cut emissions and we'll call it good.

"Holly is trying to bundle this whole project with previous pollution reduction technology reductions which they were required to do by the EPA back in 2008," says Dr. Moench.

Despite the criticism, Holly is moving forwards with its plans to expand. They want to double the amount of crude oil brought to its Wood Cross facility by 2017. The hold up? The refinery is waiting on the DAQ to approve its permit, and if it goes through expect a lawsuit from activists.

"If the state won't step up to protect public health, then we intend to try to do that," says Dr. Moench.

In the meantime, Utah Moms for Clean Air is putting a proposal together for the governor on how to help the state's air. One suggestion?

"It's probably going to be necessary down the line is to actually relocate the refineries and I think it's appropriate to have this publicly subsidized because its in the public's welfare," says Cherise Udell, the founder of Utah Moms for Clean Air.

Udell says a voter-approved bond could help pay for refineries along the Wasatch Front, like Holly Frontier, to move.

"In a way these are very bold suggestions I totally get that; this is new but we are putting all ideas on the table."

Holly Frontier told FOX 13 Tuesday night what keeps them in business is the public demand.

"We provide a valuable service that people need transportation fuels and that's what we provide for them," said Michael Astin, the Environmental Manager for Holly Frontier.

Dr. Moench says don't be duped.

"If there's anybody here along the Wasatch Front that thinks this is needed in order to have an appropriate supply of gas or even a decent price of gas this project has nothing to do with that. What it will do is make a lot of money for Holly."

Related story: Holly refinery working to reduce emissions