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Marathon to fund projects in southwest Detroit to settle refinery emissions violations

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Detroit – Marathon Petroleum Co. will invest more than $ 500,000 in community projects and will pay the state nearly $ 82,000 in fines under an emissions agreement signed this week to resolve emissions violations.

State Department of the Environment, Great Lakes,and Energy on Wednesday released the final terms of their agreement with the southwest Detroit refinery that includes an expected $ 539,000 investment in environmental protection for the neighborhood at 48217.

The agreement, which was signed on Jan. 22, has costs in excess of the expected investment of $ 360,000 in a preliminary deal starting August. The order took effect on Monday.

The bulk of the additional funding – or about $ 500,000 – will go to installing an air filter system at the Mark Twain School for Scholars in southwest Detroit. The school is located about two miles from the refinery in what is one of the most polluted in the state.

“The project will improve classroom air quality, which has been shown to have a direct impact on students’ cognitive development,” the agreement said.

An additional $ 39,760 will be used for aerial surveillance and data reporting enhancement, as agreed. The refinery’s fines result from emissions releases in autumn 2019 as well as from previous incidents. Payment must be received by the state by March 1st.

“It’s been a super long journey,” said Justin Onwenu, an environmental justice organizer in Detroit for the Sierra Club, who was one of a small group of residents who met with Marathon to determine priorities.

“I don’t think that’s all, but it’s a step in the right direction,” he added. “It sets the tone that communities struggling with pollution or damage deserve to see some form of justice, some form of accountability.”

The agreement resulted from an incident in February 2019 when a malfunction in the flare system resulted in the release of sulphide and mercaptan vapor. The contract also includes eight emissions violations across five different events in 2017, the company said.

“This Consent Ordinance resolves Marathon violations for non-compliance with the Renewable Operating Permit and state and federal air quality rules and regulations enacted from September 2017 through June 2019,” said Erin Moran of the enforcement unit of EGLE’s Air Quality Division in a press release.

The violations related to nuisance odor emissions where the flares were not continuously monitored and the visible emission limits and limits for particulates, including hydrogen sulfide and other chemicals, were exceeded.

“We appreciate the efforts of both the community and marathons to work together to make these two projects possible,” Moran told The News.

Community members have had multiple meetings with marathon leaders and state regulators since the tentative proposal was reached in August to reach the final terms.

Marathon said his “commitment to operational transparency” drove plans for a digital platform that will allow community members to access data from the air surveillance system.

The deal comes after the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform urged federal regulators to investigate chemical releases of sulfide and mercaptan vapors in September 2019, which sparked health concerns in the community and congressional lawmakers.

EGLE has stated that the order resolves suspected air quality violations and requires Marathon to follow a compliance program and pay the fine within 30 days of ordering on Monday.

According to official information, the ventilation system should be completed on or before August 31st. An online platform for the public must be set up by the beginning of March.

Last February, US Representatives Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, and Harley Rouda, a California Democrat, asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to review the 2019 publication and knowledge of what was discharged and its impact on air quality.

The request came after Tlaib and Rouda convened a hearing on air and water quality with a five-person panel of local residents and environmental officials at a leisure center next to the refinery.

The two-hour hearing took place shortly after the refinery released the steam that led to the evacuation of the facility and worried residents. Months earlier, a torch malfunctioned there, giving off an odor that caused concern in the community and others nearby.

Marathon has said the incident resulted from a valve leak while the company was taking equipment out of service.

Marathon officials have found that emissions have been reduced by 80% in the past two decades and that $ 350 million has been invested in the past few years to further reduce emissions.

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Dusty Kennedy