Federal ruling could force state to work harder to regulate oil refineries

Dec 6, 2011

A big ruling in a federal suit brought against the state aims to force more regulation of one of the biggest sources of air pollution: oil refineries.

Last March, several environmental groups including the Sierra Club filed suit against the state Department of Ecology and two regional clean air agencies. The plaintiffs want regulators to do a better job curbing emissions from the five oil refineries in Washington, they’re located near Bellingham, Ferndale, Anacortes and Tacoma.

Janette Brimmer is the lawyer with Earthjustice who argued the case in U.S. District Court in Seattle. She says the refineries are responsible for up to 8 percent of all greenhouse gasses released in the state and they should be considered “air contaminants” under a state plan to comply with the federal Clean Air Act.

“And what the judges’ order says is ‘yes, state and regional clean air agencies have an obligation to determine what technology is available and should be used by refineries to cut their climate change pollution’. ”

U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman noted regulators are supposed to require "reasonably available control technology" by industrial emitters of greenhouse gasses such as methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide. It’s unclear whether that statement could also apply to other big polluters, such as coal plants.

The agencies and their co-defendants, represented by the Western States Petroleum Association, say it’s not that they don’t want greenhouse gasses to be regulated. Rather, they think the state’s implementation plan is not the way to do it. They’re still considering an appeal.

Barring that, they say they’d need three years before they’ll be ready to comply with greenhouse gas emission standards. The plaintiffs say the regulations should be enforced in 90 days.

You can read the court ruling here.