The state of Colorado announced today that it had reached a settlement in a lawsuit brought by Suncor Energy regarding fenceline monitoring requirements for its Commerce City refinery. Colorado also announced that it will penalize Suncor $2.5 million for repeated air pollution violations and require another $8 million for projects Suncor must complete to avoid future emissions from power disruptions.
The settlement sets a strict December 2024 deadline for Suncor to finally abide by the requirement to continuously monitor its entire fenceline. The fenceline monitoring statute requires facilities to monitor for three pollutants but gives the division authority to monitor additional pollutants. However, while the division originally required Suncor to monitor for eleven additional pollutants, the new plan does not include any additional pollutants. In a side agreement, the state and Suncor have agreed that Suncor will monitor three other pollutants, but this requirement is not covered by the plan and if Suncor violates the requirement, it cannot be enforced as a violation of state law.
In late 2022, community and conservation groups intervened in the suit to maintain fenceline monitoring requirements for the Suncor refinery. Earthjustice represented GreenLatinos, the Elyria-Swansea Neighborhood Association, Healthy Air and Water Colorado, Womxn from the Mountain, Conservation Colorado, and Sierra Club.
“Enforcement cannot be bought and cannot be performative,” said Renée M Chacon, executive director and cofounder of Womxn from the Mountain. “In order to truly move the needle away from Suncor repeatedly evading accountability, there must be increased protections to align with what the community has demanded for generations. The state has failed to protect us again with meaningful enforcement.”
“While we haven’t had time to fully digest the fenceline monitoring settlement, we remain disappointed in a broken regulatory scheme that allows Suncor to sue to reduce the protections that the community worked with the legislature to create,” said Ean Thomas Tafoya, GreenLatinos CO state director. “And while this enforcement action may be the largest in state history, it does not nearly deliver on the health improvements North Denver residents have been working towards.”
“Suncor Energy, which in 2022 alone made more than $27 billion in gross profits, once again gets away with a slap on the wrist with this minimal fine of $2.5 million for hundreds of violations over a three-year period,” said Ramesh Bhatt, chair of the Colorado Sierra Club conservation committee. “We are glad that some of the money is going into the environmental justice fund, but environmental justice will only be served if Suncor stops polluting the already overburdened people and environment around its facility.”
“We’re glad to see that Suncor will finally be required to make changes to prevent future violations, but residents should not have to wait over four years for Suncor to be held accountable,” said Ian Coghill, senior attorney for Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain Office. “Suncor’s repeated air pollution violations have harmed the surrounding community for decades. While the fenceline monitoring requirement is finally resolved, Suncor successfully avoided monitoring its entire fenceline for two years by filing this lawsuit.”