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Environmental groups sue, claim oil refineries have gone 15 years without pollution permits

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Posted at 12:00 PM, Nov 03, 2014
and last updated 2014-11-03 20:55:10-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A pair of environmental groups are suing the state's air quality agency, accusing it of failing to issue a required regulatory permit to an oil refinery.

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and Friends of the Great Salt Lake filed the lawsuit against the Utah Division of Air Quality in 3rd District Court last week. They accuse the DAQ of allowing the Tesoro refinery to operate without a "Title V" permit in violation of state and federal clean air laws.

"The director's failure to issue an operating permit harms Utah Physicians because it eliminates a layer of oversight that would otherwise be conducted by the EPA," the group wrote in its lawsuit.

Tim Wagner, the director of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, claims that one aspect of a Title V permit is public input into emissions standards.

"Without that permit in place, it just kind of shrouds the whole thing," he said.

Read the lawsuit here:

In an interview with FOX 13 on Monday, Utah Division of Air Quality Director Bryce Bird acknowledged that four refineries and four other businesses were operating without Title V permits. However, he said it was because there was a conflict between state and federal law that has existed for nearly 20 years.

A listing of businesses operating without a Title V permit, provided by the Utah Division of Air Quality.

A listing of businesses operating without a Title V permit, provided by the Utah Division of Air Quality.

Bird insisted that the businesses were all operating within regulatory oversight, even upgrading equipment beyond requirements.

"The overall emissions have actually reduced since that time," he said.

Still, Bird said the lack of a Title V permit for the businesses was a concern for the DAQ, calling it an "important aspect of the Clean Air Act." He said the businesses were complying with regulations, although they do not have to self-report every six months under Title V.

"It brings in all these requirements, but it doesn't change the emissions," he insisted.

In a statement to FOX 13, Tesoro insisted its Salt Lake City refinery was in full compliance.

"The Tesoro Salt Lake City Refinery filed an application for a Title V permit in 1995 as required by law. We have continued to operate legally since that date under a Title V application shield, which allows companies to operate under their existing permits until the Title V permit is finalized and issued by regulators," Tesoro spokeswoman Tina Barbee wrote.