Ohio AG takes legal action against refinery

Keith Loria Jun. 16, 2010, 3:25pm


COLUMBUS, Ohio (Legal Newsline) -- Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray has taken legal action against a Columbus refinery company over numerous public nuisance and permit violations.

At the request of the Ohio EPA, Cordray issued a complaint and motion for preliminary injunction against Heartland Refinery Group and its operators, Gene Gornall and William Snedegar, on Wednesday, over continued complaints of air pollution violations that have resulted in a terrible odor. The odor is considered both a nuisance and a possible risk to the health of citizens and the environment.

"These violations have resulted in substantial odors that are causing a negative impact on neighboring facilities and creating an intolerable work environment for area employees," Cordray said. "Heartland has had plenty of opportunities to comply with the law, and has yet to fully address ongoing problems. We are now asking the court to intervene and help fix the conditions at the facility."

The company, which began operation in February 2009, is charged with exceeding its sulfur dioxide limitations, failing to conduct required emissions testing and circumventing legally required air pollution controls.

Heartland was issued a permit by the EPA in 2008 to install and operate, in order to control emissions, but in mid-June 2009, one of the units began intermittently bypassing several required air pollution controls. Six months later, a gasket failure at the plant resulted in the release of process gas, including steam and hydrogen sulfide, which caused a precautionary evacuation of nearly 4,000 people.

In February 2010, Heartland reopened its facility after proper documentation was cleared by the Ohio EPA. In the documentation, Heartland identified the emissions from the December failure and the corrective actions taken to prevent a similar incident from happening. Heartland, however, continued to bypass some required air pollution controls, including operating without a proper air pollution control device.

Cordray's office says numerous complaints have been lodged by nearby businesses and individuals over the smells, with previous attempts by the state to have Heartland control its systems have failed. The motion seeks to have Heartland repair its air pollution control equipment as required by its air permit.

"We recognize that Heartland only started operating last year and that this new type of recycling facility provides useful products from waste oil," Laura Powell, Ohio EPA's assistant director, said. "However, by now, the facility should have worked out basic operational 'bugs' and should not be an ongoing source of odor complaints. It is never acceptable to operate without air pollution controls that are required by law."

In addition to seeking civil penalties of up to $25,000 per day per violation, the state wants the court to issue a preliminary injunction ordering Heartland to repair its air pollution control equipment and seeks a work schedule that will put the company in full compliance with all emissions testing. The state is also seeking to have Heartland create a facility-wide preventative maintenance and malfunction abatement plan and hire an independent consultant to perform an odor review.

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