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Groups Submit Notice of Intent to Sue Suncor Over Repeated Clean Air Act Violations

Suncor has reported over 1,000 emissions exceedances or violations since 2019


Perry Wheeler, Earthjustice,, 202-792-6211

Environmental justice and conservation groups today submitted a 60-day notice of intent to sue Suncor Energy for repeated violations of the Clean Air Act at the company’s Commerce City, CO refinery. The groups intend to bring a citizen suit to hold Suncor accountable for the pollution and harm the refinery has brought to surrounding communities for years. The Clean Air Act allows the public to sue polluters for violations of the act after sending notice to the polluter and regulators. Earthjustice will represent GreenLatinos, Sierra Club, and 350 Colorado in the lawsuit.

“Suncor is not a good neighbor,” said Lucy Molina, resident in the Suncor area and frontline community organizer with 350 Colorado. “The health of my friends, family, neighbors and myself should not be sacrificed by allowing Suncor to simply get slaps on the wrist while they ignore permit limits and spew chemicals that can cause cancer, asthma, or nosebleeds, and the stress caused by the lack of enforcement and never knowing if it’s safe to let our kids play outside. It’s long past time to put a stop to this. Justice is not charity.”

“Suncor is a health hazard to human lives and a regulatory nightmare to control from their admitted leaks, emissions, and cumulative pollution to the most vulnerable communities,” said Renée M. Chacon, cofounder of Womxn from the Mountain and an impacted resident in Commerce City. “Our communities do not want to suffer and die under Suncor’s shadow for the economy anymore, while our health, safety, and path to a just transition is sacrificed in Commerce City.”

The groups, whose members and supporters include those impacted by the Suncor refinery, noted that the state has not taken meaningful enforcement action against the refinery despite its repeated violations. The groups were compelled to act against the refinery to help protect community members from continued harm. Through the lawsuit, the groups are seeking remediation for Suncor’s extensive violations and to deter the refinery from continued violations of the Clean Air Act.

“We are exercising our right to challenge Suncor who has been emboldened by a regulatory enforcement system that has not been successful bringing it into compliance,” said Ean Thomas Tafoya, Colorado state director with GreenLatinos. “Our members and my mother in North Denver are impacted. We have made a commitment to continue to use more sophisticated legal strategies in self-defense for the community.”

Between January 1, 2019 and December 31, 2023, Suncor reported over 1,000 emissions exceedances or violations of emissions standards or limitations. The exceedances generally fall into six categories:

  1. Burning gas containing too much hydrogen sulfide,
  2. Emitting too much smoke (i.e. opacity) from the refinery’s two fluid catalytic cracking units (FCCs),
  3. Emitting too much carbon monoxide from FCCs and certain gas-burning boilers,
  4. Emitting too much sulfur dioxide from a sulfur recovery unit — a unit used to remove harmful sulfur from refinery products,
  5. Failing to meet requirements for flares that limit the flares’ emissions of hazardous air pollutants, and
  6. Emitting too much nitrogen oxides (NOx) from gas-burning units.

“If someone was given 1,000 speeding tickets, we’d take away their license, but in Suncor’s case the law isn’t even being upheld in the first place,” said Margaret Kran-Annexstein, director of Colorado Sierra Club. “When regulators refuse to do their jobs to hold polluting industries accountable, we have no choice but to act. This egregious and shocking level of pollution that both Colorado regulators and the EPA have allowed Suncor to pour into our communities must be stopped. Suncor can’t keep getting a free pass when the costs on public health continue building.”

“Suncor has polluted the communities of North Denver for years,” said Ian Coghill, senior attorney with Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain Office. “This lawsuit is about holding Suncor accountable and bringing much-needed relief for those impacted by the company’s pollution. The Clean Air Act exists to protect communities from serial polluters — it is time that Suncor’s pollution limits are actually enforced.”

In April, environmental justice and conservation groups also filed an administrative appeal challenging aspects of the Suncor refinery’s Clean Water Act discharge permit. Groups argue that the permit, which was issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in March, sets a PFAS limit which is too high, has inadequate PFAS monitoring requirements, gives Suncor far too long to come into compliance, and fails to prevent groundwater seepage of benzene and PFAS into Sand Creek and the Burlington Ditch. Suncor also filed its own appeal seeking to eliminate or water down numerous protections of the permit. Environmental justice and conservation groups have moved to intervene in the Suncor appeal and plan to defend against Suncor’s efforts to weaken the permit while the groups work to strengthen it.

Surrounding communities have faced disproportionate health impacts from the Suncor refinery and other corporate polluters for years. The North Denver region is one of the most polluted zip codes in the country. Residents have higher rates of asthma and asthma-related emergency room visits than people in the rest of the city.

The Suncor refinery in North Denver.
The Suncor refinery in North Denver. (Martin do Nascimento / Earthjustice)

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