Contentious hearing expected on Delaware City Refinery changes

Environmental concerns over proposed changes to the Air Pollution Control Permit for the Delaware City Refinery will be heard at a public hearing in Dover.

Today is the first of two day-long hearings about the amended permit for the refinery’s marine vapor recovery system.  The hearing had to be moved from its originally scheduled location to the main auditorium at Delaware Technical and Community College’s Terry campus in Dover because of the anticipated high attendance. 

The permit changes have been contested by the Delaware Sierra Club and the Audubon Society.  They claim the changes violate the state’s Coastal Zone Act which restricts new industrial activity near the state’s coast.  Members of both groups are expected to be out in full force to speak out at today’s meeting.

While Governor Jack Markell may not be among the many residents are expected to testify at the hearing, WHYY talked to him about the debate over changing the permit earlier this month.  Markell says since PBF Energy reopened the refinery, emissions have seen a dramatic decline.  “You name the pollutant, and you look at the statistics, and emissions are down 60, 70, 80, 90 percent,” Markell said.  

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The environmental groups say the refinery has violated the Coastal Zone Act by building a railroad loop track outside of its footprint.  That rail facility was built to allow the refinery to receive lower cost crude oil from North American sources as opposed to bringing in oil from overseas via tanker ships.

But Markell supports the rail facility, which the refinery spent more than $100 million to install.  “The fact that they’re able to get more of the crude by rail from the northwestern United States or Canada, we think is a positive.”  He outlined three key benefits to bringing in oil by rail.  “A- it’s great to have a natural domestic supply.  B- it’s less dangerous than bringing it in by ship.  C- it’s less expensive for them so there’s a much better chance that they’ll be profitable there.”

He calls the refinery a huge economic engine for the state.  “This is a very good news story.  It’s unfortunate that people don’t really want to pay attention to that.”

The Coastal Zone Industrial Control Board hearing will run through 4 p.m. Tuesday.  It may be continued on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. if necessary.

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