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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and the Sierra Club have filed for an injunction to stop the expansion of the Tesoro refinery, claiming state approval for the expansion was illegal in Salt Lake City Tuesday, July 23, 2013.

SALT LAKE CITY — A pair of environmental groups want an administrative law judge to stop construction activities at the planned expansion at Tesoro's Salt Lake refinery, asserting the permit issued by state regulators was "inappropriately lax," and therefore illegal.

"Our air pollution is already hazardous," said Dr. Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

"More pollution from the refineries and the hundreds of new daily diesel trucks bringing in the crude oil sacrifices our health and that of our patients, just so Holly and Tesoro can make more money. It is indefensible and our community shouldn't tolerate it," he said.

Dan Mayhew with the Sierra Club said data provided by Tesoro as part of its permit shows it is in violation of the federal Clean Air Act.

"Our examination of the data is such that the plant expansion, if it goes forward as currently approved, would be out of compliance with federal guidelines," he said.

The groups filed a motion Tuesday, asking for an administrative law judge to delay the approval orders for Tesoro's permit that was approved by state regulators.

Tesoro plans to construct and operate a "black wax" crude and "yellow wax" crude processing project at its existing refinery, which involves expanded unloading capability, more storage tanks and a variety of upgrades in other equipment.

Under the plan, a gas cleanup unit would remove additional sulfur dioxide, lowering emissions by 66 tons. Overall emissions at the facility would increase, but they would not be above the cap set by the permit and within legal limits.

"They are in complete compliance with the regulations that were in place at the time," said Bryce Bird, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality.

Bird noted that as the state puts the finishing touches on its plan to reduce PM2.5, or fine particulate pollution that plagues that Wasatch Front during winter inversions, regulators will require additional emission reductions from refineries.

"The fact that we issued these permits does not exempt them or grandfather them from additional review under our current planning efforts to address our winter pollution problems," Bird said.

Meanwhile, Holly Refinery wants to nearly double the amount of crude oil it can process at its Woods Cross facility by adding a crude processing unit and technology that will allow it to process crude that is produced in Utah's Uinta Basin.

State regulators have said the crude has a lower sulfur content than other oil and that it will be processed with equipment that will result in emission reductions for PM2.5. Other pollutants such as volatile organic compounds and sulfur dioxide will be significantly reduced, according to modification proposal submitted to the state.

Although truck traffic will increase by more than 100 vehicles a day, Holly has said it anticipates many of the trucks will be new and therefore have the latest emission controls. The company has also said the trucks will not be allowed to idle while they are unloading or waiting to unload.

Both the physician's group and the Sierra Club reject the notion that production can increase and yet emissions of several pollutants will decrease.

"We can't improve air quality and public health on the Wasatch Front until we begin to reign in refinery expansions and make sure they are in compliance," Mayhew said. "It is not going to get us there."

Tesoro declined to comment on the pending legal case, but did note that the planned changes at its refinery will deliver "significant" benefits to Salt Lake City and the surrounding communities. It added that its investment in new technology will reduce sulfur dioxide emissions in Salt Lake County by more than 1 percent.

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