Background: In 2021 and 2022, Suncor’s Commerce City refineries were found to be dumping excessive amounts of cancer-causing benzene and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air and onto surrounding homes in Commerce City and adjacent areas. On Wednesday, the EPA announced a settlement with Suncor Energy over violations of the Clean Air Act. The $160,660 fine and an order to provide ‘electric lawn and garden equipment’ to impacted neighboring communities doesn’t even amount to a slap on the hand for a corporation that raked-in an annual revenue of $44.973B in 2022, an increase of 44.15% over what the company made the previous year.
The neighborhoods near the refinery have the dubious distinction of being some of the most polluted in the country and have suffered the additional injustice of a regulatory system that only recently has started to acknowledge decades of failure to prioritize the health concerns of those living in disproportionately impacted communities. To add insult to injury, Suncor is being allowed to make up for polluting the air and water with cancer-causing chemicals in these communities with a small fine and lawn equipment.
Research consistently underscores that those living in the immediate area within a 10-mile radius of the refinery are disproportionately impacted by air pollution which exposes these communities to harmful chemicals linked to devastating effects on health such as asthma, migraines, nose bleeds, and even cancer. Harmful air pollution is not only affecting the largely Latinx, im/migrant and working class communities of north Denver but also crosses county lines within the metro area beyond the 10-mile radius. Families impacted include workers and civically engaged people who are leaders in their communities and who contribute to both local economies and the cultural fabric of our state – not mere numbers conveniently anonymized by corporate interest and our government.
This is a statewide issue that requires statewide strategies and effort.
Unfortunately the response from the Polis Administration has ranged from dismissal to indifference. State leaders have yet to take action, even in the face of sobering data regarding toxic exposure and environmental racism impacting for decades several generations within our communities.
Statement by Olga González, Executive Director at Cultivando:
“The health and wellbeing of all Coloradans, particularly those at higher risk of health impacts, must come first. Community members who’ve lived for decades in sacrificial zones near the refinery are concerned about the cumulative effect of living under these conditions every single day of their lives.
“It is the responsibility of our state agencies to heighten scrutiny and accountability of Suncor, one of Colorado’s largest polluters, and we will not stand for environmental genocide sacrificing the health of the working class in favor of cheaper gasoline. To do anything less for our community is not only disrespectful, it is inhumane.”
Statement by Andrew Klooster, Earthworks Colorado Field Advocate:
“The settlement between EPA and Suncor Energy reads like a joke but nothing about it is funny. The communities near the Commerce City refineries in North Denver have the dubious distinction of being some of the most polluted in the country. EPA and Suncor have given them electronic lawn and garden equipment to make amends for decades of breathing dirty air. This agreement is not only harmful to residents near the refinery but fully undercuts the seriousness of the Biden Administration and the EPA to prioritize environmental justice.
“Administrator Regan and Governor Polis must denounce this settlement as ‘far from enough’ and commit to bring the appropriate level of federal and state action against this chronic polluter that matches the harm.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
- EPA press release announcing the settlement (9/6/23)
- Cultivando press conference announcing results of a year-long air monitoring project (3/25/23)
- Earthworks Optical Gas Images of Suncor Commerce City refinery pollution
Optical Gas Images of Suncor pollution
available upon request