Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hovensa & Environmental Justice

Hovensa Refinery
The Virgin Islands is 73% African American.  St. Croix is 72% African American.  The Hovensa Refinery is located in St. Croix.  Is there a connection between the minority population on the island and the reluctance of government authorities to seriously pursue clean up of the facility?  This is a classic environmental justice issue.  And the answer to the question is, of course race plays a role in the delayed clean up of this facility.

The U.S. EPA appears to be unwilling to regulate Hovensa under the Superfund Program and instead regulates it under the less aggressive Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).  Why?  Is EPA enabling an environmental injustice to be perpetrated upon the minority population on St. Croix?  It appears so.  Unless EPA can explain why they are allowing this site that has been closed (storage facility?) to continue to release uncontrolled hazardous constituents into the local environment, they should openly admit that they are enabling the pollution of this vulnerable community.

There has been litigation of various types and different types of settlements over the past few years.  But these settlements have been woefully ineffective at adequately addressing the clean up of the Hovensa area.  And although EPA should be commended for negotiating the consent decree that placed a $5.3 million fine on Hovensa and required $700 million in air pollution improvement retrofits, it appears the requirements, combined with negative cash flow, also helped push the company right out of business.

The governor, Virgin Islands Senate, Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Attorney General, delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice should organize around the Superfund Program to design and implement a program that will clean up the Hovensa site.  Hovensa should not be allowed to delay this clean up forever.  To do so represents an environmental injustice.

Simultaneously with the clean up should be a serious effort to reopen the refinery.  The loss of 2,500 jobs with the closure of the facility adds insult to environmental injury.  Hovensa should sell the facility with all deliberate speed while working with the appropropriate authorites to clean up their pollution legacy liability.  A new owner should also aggressively implement EPA's air pollution retrofit regimen included in the consent decree.  (U.S. Census Bureau-Virgin Islands, U.S. Census Bureau-St. Croix)

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