Trump Administration Restart of Huge St. Croix Oil Refinery Raises EJ Concerns

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

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

The idyllic island of St. Croix, part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, is a Caribbean paradise — and also the site of one of America’s largest oil refineries. The Limetree Bay oil refinery caused one of the biggest oil spills in U.S. history and violated the Clean Air Act, and until early this year had been idled since 2012. As Inside Climate News reports, the outgoing Trump administration ignored decades of harm and cut corners to grant the refinery new permits to restart operations. The plant is now “a prime example of what environmentalists see as the Trump administration’s unfettered and irresponsible deregulatory agenda.” In the three months since the refinery returned to operations, a flaring incident already covered more than 130 homes on the island with flecks of oil. 

Why this Matters: The refinery provides jobs on the island that had been hurt by two hurricanes in 2017.  But it also raises numerous troubling issues, not the least of which is that the majority of people living near the refinery are Black and nearly a third identify as Hispanic or Latino, and many are poor. In 2016, St. Croix had the most cancer cases in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Frandelle Gerard, a St. Croix business leader and the executive director of the Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism Foundation told Inside Climate News. “It’s a social justice, racial justice, and environmental justice issue.”

What Comes Next

While there aren’t concrete promises from the Biden administration, people who are now top officials in the EPA previously called out the refinery reopening as a “prime example of how the Trump EPA failed to protect human health and the environment.” Environmental advocates are calling on the new administration to revoke the refinery’s air pollution permit and in the interim have filed an appeal with the EPA.  

Legacy of Pollution and Harm

The refinery had been harming the St. Croix community for decades — it was one of the ten largest in the world ten years ago. In 1982, 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 Hovensa, the former owner of the refinery, to spend $700 million on pollution control equipment to rein in the nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds—or VOCs—and benzene being spewed by the refinery. That same year, a fuel line caught fire and exploded, sending oil into the resident’s cisterns used to catch drinking water.  The refinery had been closed since 2012 until the Trump administration ignored the previous oil spill and numerous air pollution and other violations in issuing the new permits.  

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