SALT LAKE CITY — A second challenge to a refinery expansion proposed along the Wasatch Front wound up on the desks of Utah Supreme Court justices, but it remains a big question mark if there will ever be a legal probe of the actual merits of the case.
The Utah Supreme Court, in a decision last year, already rejected an appeal by environmental groups over Tesoro's planned action, and Wednesday justices were asked to look at the case involving HollyFrontier Corp. in Woods Cross.
Justice Thomas Lee said the morning oral arguments felt like "deja vu," and he could not discern a significant legal difference in a case that appeared much like the challenge heard in 2015 involving Tesoro.
Attorney Joro Walker, arguing on behalf of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, said it was within the court's latitude to revisit the decision by Utah regulators to approve HollyFrontier's permit for an expansion.
Both the state and HollyFrontier's attorney disagreed, saying the environmental group's challenge was procedurally flawed because it failed to point out the specific errors of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality executive director's order.
Christian Stephens, representing the state agency, said the executive director's 115-page order was not a "rubber stamp" and came after a 15-month process involving more than 11,000 pages as part of the official record.
Walker said the case deserves to be heard on its merits and not rejected on technicalities.
"It is unfortunate we can't address these issues that affect our air quality and our public health," she said.
Both refineries are in "non-attainment" areas designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that require the state to reduce emissions, Walker added.
David Reyman, attorney for HollyFrontier, said the review of the planned expansion took two years under the Division of Air Quality, was subject to the 15-month appeal before the administrative law judge and was also analyzed by the EPA.
Reyman said the expansion, with modernization of technology, will significantly bring down emissions from sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds.
Walker countered that emissions will still increase by 500 tons a year.
Justices did not act on the arguments presented Wednesday but took the issue under advisement.