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EPA and State of Kansas Reach Agreement With HollyFrontier for Alleged Clean Air Act Violations at its El Dorado, Kansas Refinery

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WASHINGTON (May 28,2020) — Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the state of Kansas have announced a settlement with HollyFrontier El Dorado Refining LLC. (HollyFrontier), to address alleged Clean Air Act violations resulting from exceedances of emission limits and failure to comply with chemical accident prevention statutory and regulatory safety requirements at its El Dorado, Kansas refinery. Under the terms of the agreement, HollyFrontier agreed to pay a $4 million civil penalty and make improvements to the refinery that will greatly reduce harmful air emissions of sulfur dioxide and particulate matter; two pollutants which can cause serious respiratory problems, as well as improve its risk management practices.

The El Dorado refinery, one of the largest refineries in the Midwest, is subject to regulations that limit harmful air pollution emissions and protect communities from accidental releases of hazardous substances. According to the EPA and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, HollyFrontier repeatedly violated regulations prohibiting visible smoke emissions from the refinery’s main flare, resulting in releases of potentially harmful particulate matter. In addition, the company on several instances exceeded regulatory limits for hydrogen sulfide in fuel gas, failed to monitor for hydrogen sulfide, and failed to minimize emissions using good air pollution control practices, all of which resulted in harmful releases of sulfur dioxide. Further, EPA alleged that many of the Clean Air Act violations are repeat violations that were cited in a 2009 settlement involving the El Dorado refinery.

“Clean air is one of the most important resources we have in the United States,” said EPA Region 7 Administrator Jim Gulliford. “This agreement results in positive steps toward both compliance with the Clean Air Act and cleaner air for those living in the El Dorado community and downwind from the facility.”

The El Dorado refinery is also subject to statutory and regulatory requirements designed to prevent accidental releases of hazardous substances. The EPA alleged that the company failed to design and maintain a safe facility, and failed to comply with chemical accident prevention regulations, including failure to inspect and test equipment and correct deficiencies in equipment. These prevention failures led to a September 2017 catastrophic release of naptha, a flammable hydrocarbon mixture, which resulted in a fire and the subsequent death of one employee.

Reducing risks from such accidental releases of hazardous substances at industrial and chemical facilities is a top priority for the EPA and is identified as one of seven National Compliance Initiatives in 2019 for the Agency.

“In addition to failing to comply with Clean Air Act emissions limits, the defendant failed to maintain a safe facility resulting in a catastrophic fire,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Susan Bodine. “Today’s settlement requires the defendant to improve their facility’s pollution controls and implement a risk management plan in accordance with environmental regulations”.

Terms of the settlement include the installation of air pollution controls and upgrades at the refinery to reduce smoke from the flare, thereby reducing sulfur dioxide and particulate matter emissions. In addition, the company agreed to conduct audits of its risk management practices at the refinery and to perform corrective actions based on the audit results. The amount of injunctive relief is estimated to be at least $12 million.

The consent decree lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.

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