SOUTH PORTLAND  — A federal pollution lawsuit against a petroleum company that caught city officials by surprise this week will get a public airing when the City Council meets Tuesday night.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency filed a lawsuit and consent decree Monday charging Global Partners LP with violating the Clean Air Act for several years at its petroleum storage facility on the Fore River.

The consent decree outlines the terms of a proposed settlement that would force Global to pay $190,000 in penalties and reduce emissions at the facility, which is off Lincoln Street, at the end of Clark Road, near the Forest City Cemetery and the Pleasantdale neighborhood.

Global stores asphalt and No. 6 heavy fuel oil in huge heated tanks that have the potential to emit more than 50 tons of hazardous volatile organic compounds into the air each year, the complaint says. That’s more than double the 21.9 tons per year allowed under an emissions license issued by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in 2013.

“We want to hear the public’s concerns and we want to have a transparent discussion,” Mayor Claude Morgan said Friday. “We want our citizens to know what’s happening and to be a part of this process.”

Morgan said he initially considered holding an executive session to review the lawsuit with attorneys because city officials were surprised and unsure of the legal and environmental implications when the case was first reported. Morgan said he still hoped to learn why neither EPA nor DEP officials notified the city directly about Global’s air quality violations or the pending legal action.

The city has invited representatives of the EPA, DEP and Global to attend the meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. By Friday afternoon, EPA officials had declined the invitation because the lawsuit has been filed and the others had yet to respond, Morgan said.

EPA and DEP spokesmen didn’t respond Friday to requests for comment for this story.

The city also has hired an outside attorney to help decipher the complex lawsuit and determine how best to respond to the consent decree, which is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.

Paul Driscoll and Adrian Kendall, lawyers with Norman Hanson Detroy of Portland, are expected to be at Tuesday’s meeting, City Manager Scott Morelli said. The city hired them to avoid a potential conflict of interest because Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry, the firm of city attorney Sally Daggett, has represented Global on real estate issues.

While the lawsuit indicates Global is liable for potential Clean Air Act violations dating to 2004, the EPA issued violation notices in 2014 and 2015. Continuing high levels of volatile organic compounds were flagged again in 2016, when Global sought a “minor revision” to its emissions license from the Maine DEP.

VOCs include a variety of chemicals that can produce adverse health effects such as eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, and damage to the liver, kidneys and central nervous system, according to the EPA.

VOCs also contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone. Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems, particularly for children, the elderly and anyone with lung diseases such as asthma. Ground-level ozone also can harm sensitive vegetation and ecosystems.

Morgan said EPA officials contacted him this week after the Portland Press Herald published his comments expressing dismay that city officials learned about Global’s air quality violations and the lawsuit from the newspaper.

EPA officials told Morgan the situation in South Portland had prompted “an internal discussion” of how the agency could improve communication with local communities when violations are under investigation.

Morgan said he suggested that the city should have been notified before the lawsuit was filed, if not before EPA lawyers negotiated a settlement with Global.

Under the proposed settlement, the company must take steps to reduce emissions, pay a $40,000 fine and invest at least $150,000 in a program to replace or upgrade wood stoves in the community. The program would provide vouchers to help people replace or retrofit older wood-burning stoves with cleaner-burning, more efficient heating equipment.

Morgan said getting input from the city might have helped the EPA negotiate a settlement proposal that would be more relevant to South Portland. He noted that city officials had applied for but never received a highly competitive EPA grant in 2016 that would have established a citywide air quality monitoring program as part of its municipal climate action plan.

While talking with EPA officials this week, Morgan said, they recalled notifying the city of Global’s VOC violations when they delivered a PowerPoint presentation on the air quality monitoring program in February 2016.

The presentation identified six bulk petroleum storage facilities in South Portland: Citgo, Global, Gulf Oil, Portland Pipe Line Corp., Irving and Sprague. It noted that the EPA had inspected those facilities eight times in the previous five years and had ordered two facilities to conduct VOC emissions testing.

The presentation also noted the EPA had issued four violation notices to two facilities, but it didn’t name the facilities or provide any information about the violations. Global’s annual reported VOC emissions first spiked in 2012, according to a fever graph in the presentation. Gulf was the only other facility to show a slight overall increase in VOC emissions in the presentation.

Based in Waltham, Massachusetts, Global operates 12 of the more than 100 large petroleum storage tanks in South Portland, many of which serve seven fuel terminals on the city’s waterfront. Global receives asphalt and heavy oil by barge or truck and stores the products until they are loaded into tank trucks or marine vessels for distribution, according to the EPA’s complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Portland.

Global owned the facility before 2002 and is liable to pay civil penalties ranging from $32,500 per day for each violation after March 15, 2004, to $97,229 per day for each violation after Nov. 2, 2015, according to the EPA’s complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Portland.

Under the proposed settlement with the EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice, Global must apply for a revised license from the Maine DEP and take steps to reduce VOC emissions at the facility.

The revised license would limit the amount of petroleum products that could pass through the facility each year to 75 million gallons of asphalt and 50 million gallons No. 6 heavy oil on a rolling 12-month basis, according to the consent decree.

Global also must install mist eliminator systems on four heated tanks to address local air impacts and implement a program of at least 120 “non-heating days,” when one of the tanks isn’t heated for 24 hours. The tanks are heated to keep the petroleum products liquid.

An EPA spokesman said Tuesday that “Global has already implemented at least part of the conditions required under the consent decree to reduce VOC emissions.”

Global issued a written statement Monday saying: “We have reached an agreement to reduce emissions at our South Portland Maine facility and invest in education around replacing wood stoves. We look forward to continuing to work with the community and government agencies.”

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:
[email protected]
Twitter: KelleyBouchard

Related Headlines


Comments are not available on this story.