EPA Orders St. Croix Refinery to Close Until Proven Safe

Limetree Bay Site    Photo: U.S.V.I. Government House

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

The Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the Limetree Bay refinery in the U.S. Virgin Islands to close for at least 60 days because its operation is an “imminent risk to public health,” the agency said in a statement. The refinery had been closed for nearly a decade when it resumed operations in February thanks to a Trump administration permit. In the months since the plant has been operational, it has already spewed oil on residents and released toxic sulfuric gases and hydrocarbons into the air. The entire plant must stop operations until “we can be assured that this facility can operate in accordance with laws that protect public health,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement

Why This Matters: The air pollution and oil that were being emitted at the plant have long caused harm to the people of St. Croix, a majority Black island. For local advocates, the shutdown was a sign that their concerns were finally heard. The EPA used emergency powers under the Clean Air Act to order the shutdown, which has only been done three times before, according to the Washington Post. Thanks to this enforcement action, local residents will breathe cleaner air and not worry about oil literally raining down on them from the sky. It’s also an example of the Biden administration upholding their promise to take on environmental racism.

Limetree’s History of Pollution

While the refinery has caused plenty of damage in its short 2021 revival, it has a long history of polluting St. Croix and harming its residents. 

  • A deal between the territory’s governor and Hess Oil Virgin Islands Corp in the ‘60s led to the refinery turning part of St. Croix into an industrial zone.
  • In the ‘80s, the EPA learned that the refinery was leaking oil into the groundwater and the island’s only aquifer. Ultimately, more than 43 million gallons of oil—four times the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez—ended up in the local soil. 
  • In 2011, the EPA ordered the refinery’s previous owner, Hovensa, to pay a multimillion dollar fine and spend $700 to control air pollution coming from the industrial plant. 
  • When Hovensa stopped operating in 2012, it didn’t properly clean up the site. Instead, they paid a couple more million in class-action lawsuits. 

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